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Iran in Talks With Atomic Agency

October 19, 2003|From Times Wire Services

TEHRAN — Iran began formal talks Saturday with the International Atomic Energy Agency on tougher inspections of its nuclear sites, where Washington suspects atomic weapons could be made.

The talks with the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency "may take several days, [but] I'm optimistic that [we] will reach an agreement," said Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's representative to the organization.

The IAEA has set a deadline of Oct. 31 for Iran to prove it has no secret program for producing nuclear weapons. If the agency finds that Iran has failed to respond satisfactorily, it could refer the matter to the U.N. Security Council, a step that could lead to the imposition of sanctions.

The United States strongly suspects Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program. Iran insists its nuclear facilities are only for generating electricity.

The talks came after IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei met Iranian officials Thursday to press Tehran on the deadline, saying the agency still has "outstanding issues" to resolve over Iran's nuclear program.

ElBaradei said after his meetings that Iran had promised greater access for IAEA inspectors. He said inspectors were allowed to visit one military site and that there could be expanded reviews of both military and civilian facilities in the future.

IAEA interest is focused on Iran's sophisticated uranium enrichment facilities. Iran says it needs to produce low-grade enriched uranium to use as fuel in nuclear power reactors. But highly enriched uranium can be used in atomic bombs, and the IAEA has found traces of it in samples taken at two nuclear sites. Iran says the traces came from contaminated equipment purchased abroad.

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