UN inspectors visit Iranian nuclear site

December 09, 2013 - 7:19:58 am
DUBAI: UN inspectors visited an Iranian plant yesterday linked to a planned heavy-water reactor that could yield nuclear bomb fuel, taking up an initial offer by Tehran to open its disputed nuclear programme to greater scrutiny.

The increased transparency is the result of a thaw in relations between Iran and the West that culminated in a deal struck last month under which Tehran is to curb its nuclear programme in return for some easing of sanctions.

It was the first time in more than two years that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had been allowed to go to the Arak heavy water production plant, which is designed to supply a research reactor under construction nearby.

Iran’s heavy water work is a big concern for the West because it could be used in the process of making a nuclear bomb. Tehran says its programme is for peaceful purposes. Two inspectors arrived in Tehran on Saturday and met experts from Iran’s own atomic energy agency before travelling to Arak in the evening, Iran’s Isna news agency reported.

“The inspection is under way and will be finished this afternoon, and they (the inspectors) will return to Tehran,” said Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Iranian atomic energy agency. “The inspectors will go back to Vienna tonight.” The inspection is part of a deal between the IAEA and Tehran, separate from the November 24 interim nuclear accord reached between Iran and the so-called P5+1 in Geneva.

Officials from Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia are to meet on December 9-10 in Vienna, where the IAEA is based, for expert-level talks on implementing the Geneva deal.

Top Iranian negotiator Abbas Araqchi said negotiations at the foreign minister level would resume after January 2014, according to Isna.

There is a “strong possibility” that the timing of another inspection, of the Gachin uranium mine in southern Iran, will also be discussed in Vienna this week, Kamalvandi told Isna. The IAEA says it wants to visit Gchine to get a better understanding of Iran’s nuclear programme.

US officials have said Washington might press Iran to dismantle part of the unfinished Arak nuclear reactor, but Kamalvandi said Tehran would not entertain such a demand.

“We won’t accept getting into discussions about such issues. Iranian officials have repeated their stance over and over again: Iran’s nuclear rights are non-negotiable,” he said.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s former intelligence chief said yesterday that Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states must be part of the negotiations between major world powers and Iran. 

Iran and major powers broke through a decade of gridlock on November 24 to agree an interim deal that would freeze parts of Iran’s controversial nuclear programme while easing some of the crippling international sanctions against it.

Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia, Shia Iran’s arch-foe across the Gulf, had cautiously welcomed the deal.

“I suggest that the negotiations on Iran not be limited to the P5+1” comprising the United States, China, Britain, France and Germany, Prince Turki Al Faisal said.

“The Gulf Cooperation Council must be involved,” added the influential Saudi royal, who also served as ambassador in both the United States and Britain.

“Iran is in the Gulf and any military effort will affect us all, let alone the environmental impact” Tehran’s uranium enrichment programme could have on the region, he said at the Manama Dialogue, a forum on Middle East security. The West, Israel and Arab states in the Gulf have long suspected Iran of pursuing a nuclear weapons capability alongside its civilian programme, a charge Tehran denies.

The temporary freeze is meant to make it more difficult for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon and to build confidence while Tehran and the P5+1 hammer out a long-term accord.Agencies
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