Iran wants more time to convince hardliners on nuclear treaty
TEHRAN (AFP) Sep 02, 2003
Iran has told the West it needs more time to overcome domestic resistance to demands that it agree to snap UN inspections of its nuclear sites, making a deal here all the more unlikely next week, according to diplomatic sources.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will present a report on Iran's nuclear program to its board of governors in Vienna on September 8. If Tehran is found in breach of its commitments, the matter could be referred to the UN Security Council, carrying the threat of sanctions.

Iran is being pressed to sign an additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), allowing unannounced UN inspections of its nuclear facilities.

The wider international community, lead by the United States suspect it is secretly developing nuclear weapons -- an accusation that Tehran flatly denies.

But Iran said Monday that it was not bound by the September 8 date.

"No deadline has been set. The Islamic republic will decide in accordance with its national interests," said foreign ministry spokesman Hamid-Reza Asefi.

"We are trying to win the trust of those who have real concerns, but we will not give in to the political uproar," said President Mohammad Khatami two days ago, referring to mounting pressure on Iran to sign the NPT protocol.

Khatami is battling increasingly with entrenched religious conservatives who reformists say block all efforts at political, judicial and electoral reform.

Iranian officials have complained that the IAEA's board of governors meeting comes too soon and that they need more time to overcome domestic concerns, especially among conservatives, according to diplomatic sources.

One powerful voice among those opposed to inspections is Ali Larijani, director of state radio and television, and a member of the powerful Supreme Council for National Security, which will decide ultimately whether to accept or refuse the additional protocol.

He has urged Tehran to resist demands from the United States and the West.

"The West will end up changing its attitude," he has said.

Those against snap inspections cite Iraq as an example of where the system failed and led eventually to an invasion by foreign troops.

They are also concerned about IAEA inspectors being given complete freedom and "sticking their noses" in the country's strategic and military secrets.

They want to know what will happen if inspectors one day decide to knock on the door of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"The first error committed will be the last one," warned the conservative daily Kayhan on Tuesday.

"In the most dangerous situations, (former leader Ayatollah Khomeini) never showed enemies the slightest sign of weakness."

The concern among international observers is that if the IAEA takes a tough attitude towards Iran next week then this could make conservatives even more adamant against making any concessions.

"Friends do not threaten each other," government spokesman Abdullah Ramezanzadeh said Monday, referring to calls from EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana that Tehran sign the additional protocol.

Iranian officials have trumpeted their goodwill by citing their recent commitment to announce any new nuclear project, allowing inspectors to visit

suspect sites and their willingness to discuss an eventual signing of the protocol.

But some believe the West may not be willing to accord Iran the additional time it is demanding.

"The Iranians have to understand that pressure is building," said one western diplomat.