August 21, 2009 / 8:01 AM / 10 years ago

Iran allows IAEA better access at nuclear sites

VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran has let U.N. inspectors access a nuclear reactor under construction after blocking visits for a year, and allowed better monitoring at another, but the moves were greeted with skepticism by the West.

A worker works at the Fuel Manufacturing plant at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility 440 km (273 miles) south of Tehran April 9, 2009. REUTERS/Caren Firouz

Ahead of an International Atomic Energy Agency report next week on its nuclear program, Iran has allowed IAEA officials to inspect the site of the Arak heavy water reactor, diplomats accredited to the Vienna-based agency said on Friday.

The U.N. agency had urged Iran to grant access so it can verify that the site under construction is for peaceful uses only. The visit happened last week, diplomats said.

They also said Iran had recently allowed an upgrade to IAEA monitoring at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant.

The United States, Britain, France and Germany are expected to urge Russia and China in talks on September 2 to consider a fourth round of U.N. sanctions on Iran and the latest IAEA report will help form the basis for the discussions.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Iran’s latest moves at the IAEA fell short of what was required and that Iran must live up to its international obligations.

“These reported steps would not address the reasons for its noncompliance nor constitute the full and comprehensive cooperation that is required of Iran and would fall well short of Iran’s obligations,” Kelly said.

Several diplomats from among the six world powers told Reuters on condition of anonymity they were skeptical about Iran’s latest move.

“If it’s true, the fact that it’s coming a few days before (IAEA Director General) Mohamed ElBaradei’s report is issued says a lot, doesn’t it?” one of the diplomats said.

To avoid further sanctions, Tehran must stop enrichment, come clean about its past nuclear activities and sit down at the negotiating table, the diplomats said.

Iran’s IAEA envoy, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, was unavailable for comment. He was reported as saying on August 18 that Iran was ready for talks with the West on its nuclear program, but he later denied the comments.

Officials in Tehran were also unavailable for comment.

IRANIAN PROGRAMME

Western hopes that Iran would negotiate a cap on its nuclear work faded when it crushed unrest over alleged fraud in a June election which returned President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power.

But the new head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, appointed in July, is seen by analysts as a mild-mannered politician in favor of resolving Iran’s nuclear row with the West through talks.

Salehi said last month the Islamic state and the West needed to renew efforts to build mutual trust.

One European diplomat said it was good that Iran had allowed more IAEA access although it was still unclear whether Tehran’s concessions were a one-off.

“We must welcome every effort from Iran because we have been asking them to cooperate with the IAEA and they have not been doing so.”

Iran, which says its nuclear program is peaceful, has said the Arak complex will be geared to producing isotopes for medical care and agriculture.

But Western powers fear Iran may configure the reactor to derive plutonium from spent fuel rods as an alternative source of bomb-grade fuel to its Natanz plant, which is under daily IAEA surveillance.

Inspectors have reported back to the IAEA that containment and surveillance measures at Natanz, such as cameras and sealing, have been upgraded to the agency’s current needs.

The IAEA said in June that the plant was swiftly outgrowing inspectors’ ability to monitor it effectively and verify that there were no deviations from civilian enrichment.

Some 5,000 centrifuges were enriching uranium then, with 2,400 more being set up on the same underground production floor.

Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations and Zahra Hosseinian in Tehran; editing by Robin Pomeroy

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