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Nuclear chief ElBaradei visits Iran

Ahmadinejad defends Iran's nuclear activities as the head of the IAEA arrives to arrange an inspection of the uranium enrichment facility near the holy city of Qom.

October 04, 2009|Associated Press

TEHRAN — As the head of the U.N. nuclear monitoring agency arrived in Iran on Saturday, the country's president declared that it had reported the existence of a new nuclear site earlier than required.

Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is in Tehran to arrange an inspection of the uranium enrichment facility near the holy city of Qom.

The revelation that Iran has been building the nuclear plant has heightened the concern of the United States and many of its allies, which suspect that Tehran is using a civilian nuclear program as a cover for developing weapons-making capability. Iran says it wants only to generate energy.

President Obama and the leaders of France and Britain accused Iran of keeping the construction hidden from the world for years. The U.S. president said last month that Iran's actions "raised grave doubts" about its promise to use nuclear technology only for peaceful purposes.

ElBaradei has also said Tehran was "on the wrong side of the law" over the new plant and should have revealed its plans as soon as it decided to build the facility.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad challenged that view in a speech Saturday, saying that Iran voluntarily revealed the facility to the IAEA in a letter on Sept. 21. He said that was one year earlier than necessary under the agency's rules.

Iran agreed to allow U.N. inspectors into the facility. Its meeting with six world powers Thursday near Geneva included the highest-level bilateral contact with the U.S. in three decades.

Iranian officials argue that under IAEA rules, a member nation is required to inform the U.N. agency about the existence of a nuclear facility six months before introducing nuclear material into the machines. Iran says the new facility won't be operational for 18 months, and so it has not violated any IAEA requirements.

The IAEA has said that Iran is obliged under the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to notify the organization when it begins to design a new nuclear facility.

Iran says it voluntarily implemented the Additional Protocol for 2 1/2 years as a confidence-building gesture, but its parliament passed legislation in 2007 forcing the government to end such cooperation after the country was referred to the U.N. Security Council for sanctions over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.

The IAEA says a government cannot unilaterally abandon such an agreement.

A document drafted by senior officials at the IAEA says Iran probably has sufficient information to design and produce a nuclear bomb. But the agency has said publicly that there is no concrete proof that Iran has a nuclear weapons program.

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