Before Nuclear Regulators' Meeting, Iran Allows Inspectors Access to One Site
Elaine Sciolino & Michael Slackman, The New York Times:
After more than a year and a half of resistance, Iran has given inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency access to a razed military site, but it has failed to meet other demands under its international treaty obligations, officials knowledgeable about the inspections said Sunday.
The concession seemed aimed at derailing an American and European initiative to immediately send Iran's nuclear case for judgment by the United Nations Security Council. READ MORE
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the foreign ministers of Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany will meet in London on Monday to plot a joint strategy on how best to curb Iran's nuclear activities. Then on Thursday, the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-country board will hold an emergency session in Vienna to decide whether and how the case should be considered by the Security Council.
But the limited cooperation given to the inspectors leaves open a number of major issues about the nature and scope of Iran's nuclear program that have been raised by the United States and Europe.
News of Iran's uneven cooperation came as the Iranian foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, in an interview in Tehran on Sunday, reiterated Iran's position that it would not close down its uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, as demanded by the United States, Russia, China, the Europeans and the atomic energy agency. Like other Iranian officials, he argued that Iran has only restarted nuclear research, a sovereign right it would never relinquish.
"Nuclear technology is the right of Iran," he said. "We can discuss about the way this right can be implemented, but realization of this right is not bound by any preconditions."
Iran's decision to allow inspectors into the razed military facility in Tehran, named Lavisan, followed repeated demands by the atomic energy agency for access and information since June 2004, several months after the site was dismantled, the officials said.
Inspectors were allowed to take environmental samples that they will examine for traces of uranium particles. They also examined equipment taken from the site when it was bulldozed, before it could be inspected, the officials said.
A report by the nuclear agency's director, Mohamed ElBaradei, in November 2004 said that the destruction of the site raised "the possibility of a concealment effort" by Iran to hide uranium-enrichment activities.
But the inspectors failed to persuade Iran to be more forthcoming on a number of other outstanding issues. That means that the agency will most likely deliver a mixed report to its board before the emergency session, the officials said. The officials were speaking on condition of anonymity under customary diplomatic rules.
"Some people will see this as an important step; others won't," said one diplomat familiar with the issue. "It can be said that this should have happened a year and a half ago. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done."
Iran's cooperation on the visit to Lavisan is certain to be seen as an inadequate gesture by the United States and its European allies, which believe that the Security Council must begin to pass judgment now on Iran for its nuclear behavior, most recently its reopening of its nuclear enrichment plant.
But the small steps by Iran may strengthen the position of Russia and China, which are resisting Security Council action and at the very least prefer to give Iran another month, as it was promised, to meet international demands.
Among the other unresolved issues is the inspectors' limited access to documents and materials that Iran received from the clandestine nuclear network of Pakistan's nuclear research pioneer, A. Q. Khan, and others in 1987 and 1994. The agency has not resolved the mystery of how Iran first obtained centrifuges used to enrich uranium, for example, or how many of them the Iranians may have built. There is particular mystery around a more sophisticated version of the centrifuges that Iran denies ever building.
In addition, the inspectors may not have had access to the nuclear scientists who worked at the Lavisan site, a key demand, one official said.
In a more recent issue, Iran has yet to explain its possession of computer data, obtained secretly by the United States, that suggests work on a missile that some experts believe could be fitted with a nuclear weapon. Intelligence information on the issue was provided by the United States to the agency, which presented it to Iran earlier this month.
In the interview in Tehran, Mr. Mottaki dismissed the issues that needed to be resolved under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which Iran has signed, as "ambiguities, questions, uncertainties."
Mr. Mottaki did not discuss the visit by the international inspectors to Lavisan or address the matter of the inspections last week, which were intended to give Iran a last chance to cooperate fully with the agency's demands concerning the country's nuclear activities in past years.
The immediate trigger for the emergency meeting in Vienna was Iran's reopening of the Natanz enrichment facility this month in violation of an agreement with France, Britain and Germany in late 2004 that froze most of its nuclear activities.
Inspectors with access to the Natanz site, which is under strict agency monitoring, have reported that there was no evidence that nuclear fuel was being enriched.
Enriched uranium can be used for energy purposes or for making atomic bombs; the process of enrichment for peaceful purposes is allowed under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
But Iran's concealment of secret and suspicious nuclear activities over nearly two decades has contributed to such deep distrust of the country that there is an increasing unwillingness by the international community to allow it to do work that could contribute to its mastery of the nuclear fuel cycle.
Mr. Mottaki reiterated Iranian statements in recent days that the country was seriously examining a compromise proposal by Russia allowing Iran to enrich uranium, but only in Russia and only to levels suitable for use in nuclear reactors.
Mr. Mottaki also reiterated that Iran had agreed to bring additional "partners" into the Russian project, without elaborating.
But he suggested that Iran had not violated the 2004 agreement with the Europeans because Iran had proceeded only with research and not with fuel production.
He also accused Washington of raising the specter of nuclear weapons to serve its own domestic political needs.
"In the nuclear issue we are not seeking anything other than nuclear energy, neither military, nor political, nor anything else," he said. "But others want to, as we say in Farsi, make a hat out of this wool to use to their own benefit. When the polls were showing Mr. Bush may not get enough votes, he tried to change the general atmosphere of the American public into a security one and by insinuating insecurity, to gain some votes."
Despite his defiant tone, Mr. Mottaki also repeatedly said there was still room for negotiation. "There exists a readiness for compromise, why not?" he said. "The first element is to alleviate the concerns that some European countries have been expressing. We are committed to alleviating those concerns."
In a separate news conference on Sunday, Mr. Mottaki said he would be in London, attending a donor conference on Afghanistan, on Monday, and available to meet the six foreign ministers discussing Iran's case.
Elaine Sciolino reported from Paris for this article, and Michael Slackman from Tehran. David E. Sanger contributed reporting from Washington.