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UN Inspectors Visit Sensitive Iranian Military Site

File Digital Globe satellite image of Iran's Parchin nuclear facility.

Vienna (AFP) Nov 02, 2005
Iran has allowed UN nuclear inspectors to visit the sensitive military site of Parchin, UN officials said Wednesday, but diplomats said it was also continuing fuel work at another site that has raised concerns of a covert atomic weapons program.

"We are pleased that we can confirm that IAEA inspectors got access to buildings at the Parchin site as we had requested," a spokesman for the UN watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency said.

Washington claims Iran may be testing high-explosive charges with an inert core of depleted uranium at Parchin, 30 kilometres (20 miles) southeast of the capital Tehran, as a dry test for how a bomb with fissile material would work.

Iran faces the risk of referral to the UN Security Council over its atomic program, after the IAEA in September found it to be in "non-compliance" with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The IAEA will discuss Iran on November 24 at its Vienna headquarters.

Tehran appears to be showing more cooperation in order to avoid a referral, as the Security Council could impose trade sanctions, diplomats said.

"We hope that Iran will continue to respond positively to our request for access and information to resolve outstanding issues," the IAEA spokesman said.

But diplomats said Iran is continuing to defy the international community by pushing ahead with uranium conversion, a preliminary nuclear fuel activity, at Isfahan, central Iran.

It is to begin processing some 37 new tons of uranium ore next week after having already processed 37 tons since August.

Conversion produces the uranium gas that is the feedstock for enriching uranium into what can be fuel for nuclear power reactors but also the explosive core of atom bombs. Iran is currently suspending uranium enrichment.

Iran notified the IAEA of its new conversion work in a letter "dated 24 October," the agency said in a message sent to its member states.

A Western diplomat said that the IAEA "has repeatedly called on Tehran to re-suspend uranium conversion," after breaking off the halt last August in a move that torpedoed talks with the European Union aimed at securing guarantees about a peaceful program.

"Instead of heeding international concerns, Iran has announced another round of conversion activity. This is yet another step by which the leadership in Tehran is isolating itself from the international community," the diplomat said.

"A lot of people are taking a good hard look at Iran and thinking that its statements and actions are on the wrong trajectory," the diplomat said.

Iran's hardline government announced Wednesday it was embarking on a major shake-up of its diplomatic corps, a move set to take out top diplomats engaged in key contacts with the West, including consultations on Iran's nuclear program.

France on Wednesday renewed its threat to haul Iran before the UN Security Council.

IAEA deputy director general for safeguards, Ollie Heinonen, and two other IAEA inspectors "went Tuesday to Parchin," a diplomat close to the IAEA told

The inspectors took "environmental samples," which are swipes to see if traces of radioactive particles can be found that would prove the presence of nuclear material.

Visits to sites like Parchin are beyond NPT safeguards requirements, which are limited to inspecting sites where there is sure to be nuclear material.

The diplomat said analysis of the swipes would take up to six weeks.

IAEA inspectors had first visited Parchin in January but saw only five out of what are a much larger number of buildings. The Iranian government had up until this week refused a follow-up visit.

Iran has also refused to let IAEA inspectors visit Lavizan in Tehran, where there is suspicion of nuclear-related activities and of dual-use equipment, which could be bought for civilian purposes but then utilized for military ends.

Satellite photographs show buildings at the Lavizan-Shia site have been torn down and the topsoil taken away, possibly to hide traces of work.

Tehran officials say the former military site has been given to the city of Tehran and is being remodeled.

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