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Middle East

Inspectors set to visit Iranian nuclear site

The head of the UN nuclear watchdog has said there is a "shifting of gears" in Iran's confrontation with the West to more cooperation and transparency. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, also announced that inspectors would visit Tehran's uranium enrichment site on 25 October.

Speaking in Tehran, Mr ElBaradei said his agency "has no concrete proof of an ongoing weapons programme in Iran." He confirmed that the IAEA has "concerns about Iran's future intentions," but added,"I see that we are shifting gears from confrontation into transparency and cooperation."

His visit followed the revelation that Tehran had been secretly constructing a new uranium enrichment plant. On Thursday, Iran and six world powers put nuclear talks back on track at a landmark session in Geneva that included the highest-level bilateral contact with the US in years.

President Barack Obama's national security adviser said today that Washington was also pleased with the level of cooperation from Iran.

"The fact that Iran came to the table and seemingly showed some degree of cooperation, I think, is a good thing," James Jones said on CNN's "State of the Union" program.

"But this is not going to be an open-ended process. ... We, the world community, want to be satisfied within a short period of time," Jones added. "So it's not going to be extended discussions that we're going to have before we draw our conclusions to what their real intent is. But for now, I think things are moving in the right direction."

ElBaradei was in Iran to set up the UN inspection of the facility near Qom.

The site sparked serious concern, in part because its location next to a military base and partly inside a mountain adds to suspicions that Iran's nuclear program could have a military dimension. Obama, who accuses Iran of seeking to keep the site hidden for years before notifying the IAEA about it, has said Tehran's actions "raised grave doubts" about its promise to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes only.

Iran, which insists its nuclear work is only for nonmilitary purposes like energy production and medical research, says the site's location near a military base is intended to protect it from potential aerial bombing.

"It is important for us to send our inspectors to do a comprehensive verification of that facility, to assure ourselves that it is a facility that is built for peaceful purposes," ElBaradei said, seated beside Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's nuclear agency. "We agreed that our inspectors would come here on the 25th of October to do the inspection and to go to Qom and I hope and I trust that Iran will be as transparent with our inspectors team as possible."

The US ambassador to the United Nations said that the permanent members of the UN Security Council are studying options for more sanctions if Iran does not fully open its nuclear program to international inspections.

"But right now we are in a period of intense negotiations," said Ambassador Susan Rice, speaking on NBC TV's "Meet the Press." "It's not an infinite period. It's a very finite period," she said, while refusing to set a deadline.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told ElBaradei that Iran's cooperation with the agency has left no ambiguity over Tehran's nuclear activities.

"Outstanding issues were resolved due to good cooperation between Iran and the agency," state TV quoted Ahmadinejad as saying. "Today, there are no ambiguous issues left."

But the IAEA says there are still issues that Iran needs to clarify, including alleged studies by Iran on high explosives and a missile delivery system for a nuclear warhead.

"As I have said many times and I continue to say today, the agency has no complete proof that there is an ongoing weapons program in Iran," ElBaradei said. "There are allegations that Iran has conducted weaponization studies. However these allegations we are still looking into and we are looking to Iran to help us clarify," he added.

Iranian officials have challenged Obama's accusations that they sought to keep the new enrichment site hidden, saying a Sept. 21 letter informing the IAEA about the facility was sent a year earlier than required.

"We disagree with the interpretation of Iran. ... Iran should have informed the IAEA the day it decided to construct the facility," ElBaradei said.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's Additional Protocol requires notification before construction starts. The Additional Protocol, which Iran says it stopped implementing in response to UN sanctions, also allows intrusive inspections.

"It is important to us that Iran reapplies the Additional Protocol," ElBaradei said.

ElBaradei also discussed a plan to allow Russia to take some of Iran's processed uranium and enrich it to higher levels to fuel a research reactor in Tehran.

He said that there would be a meeting Oct. 19 in Vienna with Iran, the US, France and Russia to discuss the details of that agreement.