Tuesday, October 11, 2005

UN Nuclear Official on Iran Mission

UN nuclear watchdog number two Olli Heinonen left Tuesday for Iran, where he is "paying a visit to certain officials" and will meet UN inspectors on the ground, a western diplomat said in Vienna.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei -- who on Friday received the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with his agency -- was invited to Tehran at the end of September, but a visit was not deemed appropriate at this stage, according the diplomat. READ MORE

"The Director General would go only if there was a major breakthrough, if they decided to open their doors," the source said.

"Among the outstanding issues are detailed accounts of what was offered by the (AQ Khan) network and what was accepted by Iran," the diplomat said, referring to the suspected leaking of nuclear expertise from Pakistan.

The IAEA, and ElBaradei in particular, have been demanding greater transparency from Iran over its nuclear programme amid fears it contains a military element. The agency has also asked for access to certain sensitive sites in the Islamic Republic.

"Inspectors have been there for a while, they come in and out," the diplomat explained.

Heinonen's visit comes a day after Iran softened its tone on negotiations over its disputed nuclear programme.

"Negotiations are Iran's strategic choice in the nuclear issue," Ali Agha Mohammadi, spokesman for Iran's Supreme National Security Council, told the student news agency ISNA on Monday.

In the past few days European officials have also called for talks to reopen before the next meeting of the atomic agency's board of governors in November, which will decide whether to refer Iran to the UN Security Council for "non compliance" with the Non Proliferation Treaty.

Talks with Britain, France and Germany broke down in August, when Iran slammed the door on an offer of incentives in exchange for a cessation of fuel work. Iran also ended a freeze on fuel cycle work by resuming uranium conversion -- a precursor to potentially dual-use enrichment work.