Iran invites atomic energy board to inspect nuclear programme

IRAN has invited an International Atomic Energy Agency team to Tehran to work on clearing up suspicions about its nuclear programme, an IAEA spokeswoman said yesterday.

Apparently calculated to blunt the threat of new UN sanctions, the invitation could increase pressure on the United States and its closest allies to reconsider their insistence that Iran freeze all uranium enrichment activities.

The main demands of the UN Security Council are an enrichment freeze, a stop to construction of a reactor that will produce plutonium and a requirement that Iran stop stonewalling the IAEA and answer questions about activities that could be linked to a weapons programme.

The country’s refusal to provide answers prompted the council’s original call for a stop to all enrichment activities. Since December, the council has imposed two sets of sanctions and has begun informal consultations on new penalties.

Iran says it wants to develop a full enrichment programme only to generate power and says it has the right to do so under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

During a meeting Sunday with IAEA head Mohamed El Baradei, Ali Larijani, Tehran’s chief nuclear negotiator, “invited the IAEA to send a team to Tehran to develop an action plan for resolving outstanding issues related to Iran’s past nuclear programme”, said Melissa Fleming, an agency spokeswoman.

“The IAEA intends to send a team as early as practicable,” she said.

That meeting was preceded by talks Saturday between Larijani and Javier Solana, the chief European foreign policy official. A European diplomat familiar with Saturday’s talks said Mr Larijani asked for 120 days to answer the IAEA questions — a time span mr Solana rejected as too long.

Asked what Mr Solana considered a reasonable timeframe, the diplomat, who demanded anonymity in exchange for discussing the confidential talks, said: “Weeks — and not very many."

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