A team of UN inspectors today prepared for their first look inside a formerly secret uranium enrichment facility that has raised Western suspicions about the extent of Iran’s nuclear programme.
The inspection tour will provide the world’s first independent details of the heavily protected site, carved into a mountainside near the holy city of Qom south of Tehran. It also coincides with the countdown to Iran’s expected decision on whether to accept a UN-brokered plan to process its nuclear fuel abroad.
Iran promised to respond later this week on the proposal, which seeks to ease international worries that Iranian labs could push the uranium enrichment to higher levels for weapons-grade material. Iran claims it only seeks peaceful reactors for research and energy.
Although Iran has not given its official answer on the proposed nuclear deal - discussed last week after talks in Vienna with the United States, France and Russia – there are increasing doubts that Iran’s leadership will come on board.
Yesterday, Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani claimed the West was trying to “cheat” Iran under the deal that would ship most of Iran’s uranium to Russia for reactor-ready enrichment.
Mr Larijani, the country’s former nuclear negotiator, said Iran prefers to buy the nuclear fuel it needs for a reactor under construction that makes medical isotopes.
He did not specifically address the fuel needs for Iran’s planned Russian-built full-scale reactor, but Russia is required to provide fuel as part of agreement to build it for Iran in the southern city of Bushehr. The reactor is nearly operational.
Rejection of the UN deal would force the United States and its allies to either return to talks or step up demands for greater economic sanctions.
The inspection of the newly revealed facility – known as Fordo after the site of a major battle during the 1980-88 war with Iraq – is Iran’s second enrichment site and raised international suspicion over the extent and aim of Tehran’s nuclear programme.
But Iran says that by reporting the existence of the site voluntarily to the UN’s nuclear watchdog, it “pre-empted a conspiracy” against Tehran by the US and its allies who were hoping to present the site as evidence that Iran was developing its nuclear programme in secret.
The delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency is led by Herman Nackaerts, director of IAEA’s division of operations department of safeguards. The inspectors are expected to stay three days in Iran.