UN atomic chief due in Iran

October 3, 2009 12:00 am

, TEHRAN, Oct 3 – The head of the UN atomic watchdog was expected in Tehran later on Saturday after Washington and its allies demanded quick progress from Iran in revived talks on its controversial nuclear programme.

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei "will arrive Saturday afternoon in Tehran," an official from the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation who declined to be named told AFP.

ElBaradei, whose mission follows hot on the heels of the disclosure that Iran is building a new nuclear plant, is expected to meet Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Iranian atomic body.

The visit comes as pressure mounts after US President Barack Obama on Thursday demanded swift and "constructive" action from Iran following the crucial nuclear talks in Geneva between six world powers and Tehran.

Obama warned his patience for dialogue was limited.

But he conceded that the Geneva meeting, which included the highest-level direct talks between the United States and Iran in three decades, marked a "constructive" start to defusing the nuclear standoff.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Saturday defended Tehran’s nuclear programme, including the building of the second uranium enrichment plant whose disclosure before the Geneva talks outraged Obama and other Western leaders.

"Iran’s actions are based on honesty. We did not have any secret (nuclear) work because we gave information (about the new plant) ahead of time" to the IAEA, Ahmadinejad said at a ceremony in Tehran.

Ahmadinejad also criticised Obama, saying his US counterpart had "made a great mistake" by slamming Iran over the timing of the disclosure of the new plant.

"We gave the information sooner … but his (Obama’s) information was wrong. He said incorrect words," Ahmadinejad said.

Western powers suspect Tehran is making an atomic bomb under the guise of its civilian nuclear work, a charge Iran denies.

The Geneva talks were the first of their kind for 15 months, and Western officials in Geneva acknowledged they marked Iran’s "engagement" on its nuclear programme which they said Iran had refused to discuss since July 2008.

France said the talks were a "step in the right direction" but added it would judge results through Iran’s actions, while Russia voiced "cautious optimism" so long as the agreements were respected within the set timeframe.

Senior US officials in Geneva said part of the outcome might temper more immediate fears, especially in the Middle East, that Iran had accumulated enough enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon.

Iranian newspapers on Saturday praised Tehran for gaining the "upper hand" during the Geneva talks.

"Iran’s solid logic, innovation and resistance were the key elements on which Tehran presented its argument," said the government-run Iran newspaper on Saturday.

Some Tehran dailies put the emphasis on the direct US-Iran talks. "Nuclear talks in Geneva held through the channel of Iran-US dialogue," was the front-page headline of Jomhuri Eslami.

Iran agreed to cooperate "fully and immediately" on the second enrichment facility near the holy city of Qom, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said after the talks.

The six world powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — now expect IAEA inspections of the plant to be allowed within two weeks, he added.

A senior US administration official said ElBaradei’s visit would deal with arrangements for inspections.

Iran also tentatively agreed at the Geneva talks to ship some of its stocks of low enriched uranium abroad for reprocessing into fuel for an internationally-supervised research reactor in Tehran.

"If Iran agrees to send most of its stockpile of LEU (low enriched uranium) to Russia to be further enriched to provide this fuel, it will reduce that source of anxiety," a US official who declined to be named told journalists.

Experts estimated that in recent months, Iran had exceeded the amount of low energy uranium needed to produce enough higher grade uranium to make a bomb, he explained.

Under the deal, the uranium stocks would be shipped to Russia for further enrichment and to France for reprocessing into fuel suitable for the Tehran reactor, which was supplied by the United States several decades ago.

However, the agreement is only "in principle" and the technical details need to be worked out at a meeting of the IAEA in Vienna on October 18.


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