Iran's IAEA rep advises Tehran to sign up to inspections protocol
TEHRAN (AFP) Jul 27, 2003
Iran's representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) advised his government Sunday to agree to no-notice inspections of its nuclear facilities and said he hoped the additional protocol permitting them will be signed by September.

Ali Akbar Salehi is the first Iranian official to openly endorse the idea of Iran signing the additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), although the decision is not in his hands.

The treaty was "not conceived just for Iran or Third World countries and sooner or later all IAEA member states will have to sign up," Salehi told the government daily Iran.

"I hope that we can overcome the problem by the next IAEA board of governors meeting in September through the measures that top officials are going to take in the coming month," Salehi said, adding that he felt "confident".

Salehi rejected concerns among hardliners in Iran that the additional protocol would allow IAEA inspectors to meddle in Iranian internal affairs and said it would ease international pressure on the Islamic regime.

"We are currently in a situation in which the protocol can help us settle some problems and close the political file opened on our nuclear activities," he said in reference to US-led criticism.

Earlier this month, European Union foreign ministers expressed "increasing concern" over Iran's nuclear programme and demanded Iran's unconditional acceptance of the additional NPT protocol.

Salehi warned there was a real danger the IAEA might refer Iran's case to the UN Security Council, as threatened by the regime's arch-enemy, the United States.

"I hope that our leaders can sort things out before the next board of governors' meeting so that we don't see the same international consensus against Iran that there was at the last one" in June, he said.

"The pressures on Iran's mission are growing by the day because the West has formed a practically united front among the 35 members of the board."

Salehi's remarks were challenged Sunday by Mohammad Reza Bahonar, a senior conservative figure and member of the Expediency Council arbitration body, who said that countries which had signed the additional protocol "regretted it, because of the danger it poses to national security".

"We will never sign anything that goes against our independence," Bahonar wrote in the Ressalat daily. He did not rule out Iran quitting the NPT altogether if pressures continued.

An IAEA team is expected in Tehran in the coming days to brief officials on the NTP's additional protocol, a visit which Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi said signaled that Iran was studying the issue of signing it.

Kharazi added there were "ambiguities" in the protocol that needed clarification.

On the prospect that Washington would seek to bring concerns about Iran's nuclear program to the Security Council, which could then decide on whether to impose sanctions, President Mohammed Khatami said Wednesday that the decisive factor would be "national interests, whatever the risk".

The EU, which is negotiating a key trade pact with Iran, said it would review its cooperation with Tehran in September, when the IAEA will deliver its latest report on Iran at the next IAEA board of governors meeting.