Iran pledges cooperation on nuclear program amid doubts
VIENNA (AFP) Nov 09, 2003
Iran has promised to put two key pledges in writing next week agreeing to international monitoring of its nuclear program but diplomats were wondering Sunday whether this was part of a delaying tactic to hide an alleged atomic weapons program.

Iran will next week give the International Atomic Energy Agencyletters agreeing to surprise United Nations inspections of its nuclear facilites and confirming it will suspend the enrichment of uranium, the UN nuclear watchdog's chief Mohamed ElBaradei said Saturday.

He was speaking to reporters after meeting in Vienna with Iranian National Security Council chief Hasan Rowhani.

Rowhani later said they had agreed that with the pledges and an Iranian report on its nuclear program given to the IAEA in October, "all remaining questions have been answered by Iran."

The United States accuses Iran, which is building a nuclear power reactor with Russian help, of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran vehemently denies the charge.

Rowhani said that under the "new circumstances, in the new environment of cooperation," the international community should accept Iran's right to use peaceful nuclear technology.

Diplomats observed however that Iran has so far neither signed the additional protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) on wider inspections nor suspended uranium enrichment.

In Tehran Sunday, foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said that "in the course of the coming days, Iran will implement and announce the suspension of uranium enrichment."

Iran had already pledged to do so in a written statement issued when foreign ministers from Britain, France and Germany visited Tehran almost three weeks ago, on October 21, to break a deadlock over Iranian cooperation.

"The Iranians have made pledges in the past but the extent to which they are going to do these things is still not clear," a Western diplomat said.

He said the world was "still waiting for action that will demonstrate Iranian promises turning into reality because we've been disappointed in the past."

Diplomats have said that while Iran sees suspending enrichment as merely turning off centrifuges that can make highly enriched uranium -- a nuclear fuel which can also be used to make the bomb -- Britain, France and Germany want it to suspend the whole range of enrichment activities, including deliveries, construction of new facilities and research.

There is pressure on Iran since the IAEA board of governors is to meet in less than two weeks, on November 20, to decide whether the Islamic Republic is in compliance with the NPT.

A ruling of non-compliance could lead to UN sanctions against Iran.

ElBaradei is next week to submit to the 35 member states of the board his report on Iranian compliance. He has already said that Iran has failed to honor some international nuclear safeguards.

Iran submitted on October 23 what it said was a full report on its nuclear program, eight days before an October 31 deadline set by the IAEA.

Diplomats said however that it would take months to verify the information and that this could be taken by the board as a reason not to pass judgement.

A Western diplomat said about the Iranians: "If they are clever, and we believe they are clever, they will try to cooperate until November 20 (to get a judgement of compliance) and then they will break all the rules again."

In Washington, the US Central Intelligence Agency warned that international inspections might not prevent Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons, because Tehran could be using legitimate fuel production to cover up its weapons program.