Russia welcomes Iran's signing agreement on nuclear inspections
MOSCOW (AFP) Dec 18, 2003
Russia Thursday welcomed Iran's signature of an agreement allowing UN weapons experts to make surprise inspections of suspect nuclear sites.

"We welcome this responsible step by Iran's government which shows Tehran's intention to move along the road toward ensuring complete transparency of its nuclear program," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Iranian Ambassador Ali Akbar Salehi signed the protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at a ceremony at the Vienna headquarters of the UN nuclear watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The move was hailed as a watershed for Tehran as it seeks to fend off accusations that it is developing nuclear weapons.

"Iran has turned a new leaf," said IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei.

Russia is building the Islamic state's first nuclear power reactor at Bushehr, which is due to be completed in 2005, a Russian nuclear ministry spokesman told AFP.

The project has been repeteadly delayed because of negotiations over a separate agreement under which Tehran would pledge to return spent fuel from the plan back to Russia.

The two sides have said they would sign that agreement in January, during a visit to Iran by Russian Atomic Energy Minister Alexander Rumyantsev.