DUBAI/VIENNA (Reuters) - U.N. nuclear inspectors arrived in Iran on Tuesday to visit a uranium mine, Iranian media reported, as part of a cooperation pact meant to help allay international concern about the country’s nuclear program.
Wednesday’s planned inspection of the Gchine mine in southern Iran will be the first by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at this site since 2005.
Allowing the U.N. nuclear agency - which is investigating allegations that Iran has carried out atomic bomb research - to go to Gchine was among six concrete steps Iran agreed to under the November 11 agreement with the IAEA.
“The inspectors have arrived in Tehran to make a visit to Gchine mine,” Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, was quoted as saying by Fars News Agency.
The IAEA was not immediately available for a comment. Its director-general said last week that the Gchine visit would take place “in coming days”.
The IAEA-Iran deal is separate from a November 24 breakthrough accord between Iran and six world powers to curb Iran’s nuclear program in return for a limited easing of sanctions that have battered its economy. That agreement took effect on January 20.
But both accords signaled a rapid improvement in Iran’s troubled ties with the outside world, made possible by the election of a relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, as president on a platform of ending Tehran’s international isolation.
Iran has moved quickly since Rouhani took office in August to improve relations with the West after years of confrontation under his hardline predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran denies accusations it is seeking to develop atomic bombs.
As the first step to be implemented under the Iran-IAEA agreement, U.N. inspectors went to the Arak heavy-water production facility in December, a plant that is linked to a nearby reactor under construction that the West fears could yield plutonium for nuclear bombs once operational.
The other measures concerned provision of information about nuclear facilities Iran has said it plans to build.
The IAEA says it needs such access and data to gain a better understanding of Iran’s nuclear program and to ensure there is no diversion of atomic material for military purposes.
Iran says it is only refining uranium to fuel a planned network of nuclear power plants. But the same material can also provide the fissile core of an atomic bomb if enriched more.
Diplomats say the six first steps are relatively easy to implement and that it will be more difficult for Iran to agree to other action sought by the IAEA, including access to the Parchin military site where the U.N. agency believes nuclear weapons-relevant explosives tests took place a decade ago.
Iran and the IAEA will meet again in Tehran on February 8 to discuss future measures. IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano told a news conference on Friday that they should include issues related to what the U.N. agency calls the “possible military dimensions” to Iran’s nuclear program.
Reporting by Mehrdad Balali in Dubai and Fredrik Dahl in Vienna, editing by Mark Heinrich