Iran Moves Toward Nuke Inspections

Iran will firm up pledges next week on an agreement to open suspect nuclear programs to snap inspections and announce when it will suspend uranium enrichment, the head of the U.N. atomic agency and a top Iranian official said Saturday.

Under pressure to prove it is not trying to make nuclear arms, Iran already had pledged over the past weeks to allow pervasive inspections and suspend enrichment. But the time frame was unclear before the comments Saturday by Director General Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency and Hasan Rowhani, who heads Iran's Supreme National Security Council.

"Next week, we will get a letter from Iran on the conclusion of the additional protocol," that, if approved by Iran's parliament, will allow IAEA inspectors to probe hitherto off-limits nuclear activities, ElBaradei told reporters. Rowhani also promised a letter next week "on Iran's agreement to suspend all enrichment activities and reprocessing activities," ElBaradei said.

Asked for a firm date on the start of a moratorium on uranium enrichment, Rowhani said he would announce that "next week."

"Iran is determined to make sure that the international community is assured of the peaceful nature of its (nuclear) programs," he said.

The meeting between ElBaradei and Rowhani reflected last-minute efforts by Iran to avert the threat of possible U.N. Security Council sanctions and came only days before ElBaradei is to release a report to the IAEA board of governors on Tehran's nuclear activities.

Diplomats familiar with the agency, who asked for anonymity, said the IAEA would likely receive the two letters by Monday, allowing ElBaradei to include them in his report.

The IAEA board is to meet Nov. 20 to scrutinize the report and weigh charges by the United States and its allies that Iran is running a clandestine weapons program. Iranian diplomats in Vienna told the AP it would be up to the Nov. 20 board meeting to authorize ElBaradei to sign the agreement with Iran on throwing open its nuclear programs to unfettered inspections.

If the board meeting decides that the report justifies declaring Tehran in violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty, meant to stop the spread of nuclear arms, it will ask the U.N. Security Council to get involved. It, in turn, could impose sanctions.

Under international pressure, Iran gave the agency what it said was a complete declaration of its nuclear activities just days ahead of an Oct. 31 deadline.

Tehran promised weeks ago to suspend its enrichment activities, a key concern. It maintains that it has enriched uranium only to non-weapons levels, as part of purely peaceful nuclear programs meant to generate electricity.

While acknowledging IAEA finds of traces of highly enriched, weapons-grade uranium on its enrichment centrifuges, it says the "contamination" originated outside Iran and was inadvertently imported with the equipment bought abroad.

Diplomats say the United States and its allies will seize on any ambiguity in ElBaradei's report concerning enrichment and other suspicious activities in pushing at the board meeting to have Iran declared in noncompliance with the Nonproliferation Treaty.

Rowhani on Saturday suggested that the United States would not have much of a case.

"All remaining questions have been answered by Iran," he said, asserting that both he and ElBaradei "concluded that ... (Tehran) has completely disclosed its past (nuclear) activities."

Asked if that was so, ElBaradei said that his agency has had "satisfactory cooperation" with Iran but suggested that work remained to be done, saying that "full transparency" on the nature of Iran's nuclear program had not yet been achieved.

"I think we are moving together to try and resolve all remaining issues," he said.

IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said that the agency "could not pass judgment ... until we have independently verified the accuracy" of the evidence provided by Iran on its nuclear activities, adding: "That could take months."

From Vienna, Rowhani was to fly to Moscow. A senior State Department official in Washington said earlier this week on condition of anonymity that Russia may be ready to halt an $800 million deal with Tehran to build a reactor for a power plant if Iran backtracks on its commitment to clear up suspicions about its nuclear activities.