U.N. nuclear chief urges Iran to ease concerns about program

Tuesday, July 8, 2003

VIENNA, Austria -- Ahead of a key trip to Tehran, the chief U.N. nuclear monitor urged Iran on Monday to come clean on suspect programs that could be used to make atomic weapons.

Mohamed ElBaradei, who heads the International Atomic Energy Agency, told The Associated Press that only full cooperation can dispel international skepticism about the country's nuclear ambitions.

Iran needs "to give us additional authority for the international community to be fully satisfied that the program is completely dedicated to peaceful purposes," said ElBaradei, who is scheduled to meet with President Mohammad Khatami and other top officials starting Wednesday.

The United States has been at the forefront of accusations that Iran is running a clandestine nuclear weapons program. President Bush -- who labeled Iran part of the "Axis of Evil," along with Iraq and North Korea -- warned last month that Iran must keep its promise not to develop nuclear weapons. If the Iranians don't, "we will deal with that," Bush said.

Iran denies it wants nuclear weapons, and it has already let the International Atomic Energy Agency inspect parts of its programs. But ElBaradei, who heads the Vienna-based agency, wants Iran to let it make more intrusive checks.

ElBaradei is seeking permission to conduct environmental sampling at one site to see if suspect radioactive material was used. Diplomats familiar with his itinerary said he would seek a commitment from Tehran to hold off activities involving materials and technologies that can be used to make nuclear weapons until all concerns are laid to rest.

These include the testing of centrifuges used to enrich nuclear fuel, the production of metalized uranium, and the construction of a heavy water facility being built at the Iranian town of Arak.

Some of these technologies and materials can be used either for peaceful or military purposes, underscoring the need for Iran to be more transparent, ElBaradei said.

A diplomat, who declined to be identified, said agency experts are skeptical about Iranian claims because of anomalies in the information. For instance, he said, nuclear officials in Tehran insist they did not use uranium hexafluoride to test the enrichment capacities of their centrifuges even while acknowledging they had the substance, which is key to such testing.

"That's like chewing without swallowing," said the diplomat.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, finishing a visit to Tehran last week, said Iran should "unconditionally and quickly" authorize extended inspections.

In talks with Straw, Khatami insisted his country has no intention of developing nuclear weapons and said ElBaradei has Iran's "full cooperation." Iran insists its nuclear operations serve only to generate power.

ElBaradei said he was looking for Iran to provide answers to outstanding questions within "days or weeks." Tehran needs to provide at least a "commitment," that would be followed up quickly by "concrete action," he said.

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