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Iran Turns Away IAEA Inspectors

Iran turned away international nuclear officials last month when they tried to conduct a surprise inspection of Iranian uranium enrichment centrifuges, Agence France-Presse reported today (see GSN, March 20). The International Atomic Energy Agency personnel were denied access April 21 to a room containing the centrifuges despite an earlier Iranian promise to cooperate with unannounced visits, diplomats said. The attempted inspection was the first unannounced visit since Tehran and the agency brokered a deal to permit agency monitoring of the site at Natanz, where diplomats close to the agency have said technicians have installed more than 1,600 centrifuges in 10 "cascades" (see GSN, April 19).

The agency had sought to install permanent cameras within the cascade hall, but Iran refused and instead agreed to allow frequent, unannounced visits by agency inspectors, AFP reported.

The April 21 visit "was a total failure," said one diplomat, adding that the agency has not yet attempted another surprise inspection.

"The Iranians did not let the IAEA inspectors into the halls where the cascades of centrifuges are," the diplomat said.  "So they couldn't get details of what is going on there."

"An undeclared visit should be fast, uncomplicated, but the Iranians said they wanted to talk again about the terms of the visits," the diplomat added (Michael Adler, Agence France-Presse I/Yahoo!News, May 11)..

Iran denied the AFP report today, saying the nation has cooperated with the agency.

"There are no limitations regarding inspection and Iran as promised acts completely according to the [Nuclear Nonproliferation] Treaty and has opened its door to all inspections of its sites," said Ali Asghar Soltanieh, head of the Iranian delegation to an NPT conference meeting this week in Vienna (see GSN, May 10).

"Such news is only aimed to weaken Iran's placement in the final days of the Nonproliferation Treaty revision conference," he added (Iranian Student News Agency, May 11).

Tehran and the agency have been working for months to agree on inspection arrangements at the underground enrichment facility, where Iran has been adding about one cascade of 164 centrifuges every 10 days, said the diplomat.

The machines are processing uranium gas, but only "in slow motion," to prevent equipment failures, according to the diplomat.

"The Iranians are working at having a large number of centrifuges running, rather than how efficient the process is," the diplomat said (Adler, Agence France-Presse I).

Meanwhile, the United States has backed a proposed "time out" compromise to enable a return to talks with Iran to reach a long-term resolution to the nuclear crisis, Reuters reported today (see GSN, May 7).

The compromise would call for U.N. powers to suspend implementation of recently imposed Security Council sanctions and for Iran to simultaneously freeze its uranium enrichment activities.

Officials from the five permanent council members and Germany met yesterday in Berlin, where U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns agreed to the dual suspension plan.

"We are offering to negotiate.  We are waiting for a response from Iran," he said (Judy Dempsey, International Herald Tribune, May 10).

Elsewhere, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney kept up rhetorical pressure on Iran today, addressing the nuclear crisis from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis in the Persian Gulf (see GSN, Feb. 12).

"With two carrier strike groups in the Gulf, we're sending clear messages to friends and adversaries alike," he said.  The United States "will stand with others to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons and dominating this region" (Graham Bowley, New York Times, May 11).

Last night, Iranian and North Korean officials signed an agreement to improve ties between the two nations, Reuters reported.

by Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Yong Il signed the deal in Tehran (Reuters, May 11).

"Tehran sees no limit in expanding ties and cooperation with Pyongyang," said Iranian Vice President Parviz Davoudi.  Iran was "ready to offer its achievements in different fields but especially the economy, infrastructure and technical services for the progress of North Korea" (Agence France-Presse II/Yahoo!News, May 10).

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