UN to inspect new nuclear plant on Oct. 25

The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will inspect Iran's new uranium enrichment site in Qom on Oct. 25, its chief Mohammed ElBaradei said Sunday, adding that Iran's relations with the West were moving from "conspiracy" to "cooperation".


UN nuclear inspectors are to visit Iran's new uranium enrichment plant that has raised alarm in the West on October 25, the UN atomic watchdog head announced on Sunday after talks with Iranian officials.

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei held talks with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other officials on Iran's nuclear drive.

ElBaradei, who flew in on Saturday, told a news conference after the meetings that UN inspectors would check Tehran's new uranium enrichment plant near the holy city of Qom on October 25.


At the news conference with Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, ElBaradei said that Iran's relations with the West were moving from "conspiracy" to "cooperation" and that the nuclear dispute could be solved through diplomacy.

"It is important for us to have comprehensive cooperation over the Qom site. We had dialogue, we had talks on clarification of the facility in Qom, which is a pilot enrichment plant," ElBaradei said, adding Iran should have informed the IAEA of Qom when it decided to build the site.

ElBaredi also announced that officials from the United States, Russia, France and Iran would hold talks in Vienna on October 19 on the possible enrichment abroad of Iran of Tehran's uranium.

The start of progress

In Geneva last week, six world powers and Iran held the first such talks for 15 months over Tehran's nuclear drive.

Western officials acknowledged that the encounter marked Iran's "engagement" on its nuclear programme, which they said Iran had refused to discuss since July 2008.

Iran also tentatively agreed at the Geneva talks to ship some of its stocks of low enriched uranium (LEU) abroad for processing into fuel for an internationally supervised research reactor in Tehran.

Amid fears among Western powers that Iran may have amassed enough low LEU to eventually create a nuclear bomb, senior US officials have said such a move might help lower tensions.

However, the agreement is only "in principle" and the technical details need to be worked out at an IAEA meeting in Vienna on October 18.

The disclosure by Tehran prior to last week's Geneva talks that it is building a second nuclear enrichment plant inside a mountain at Qom triggered worldwide outrage.

ElBaradei's visit came amid mounting international pressure against Iran over its atomic programme, including a warning by US President Barack Obama after the Geneva talks that his patience for dialogue was limited.

The president made a thinly-veiled threat that Washington would press for further UN sanctions if Tehran failed to take quick action.

Iran could be equipped to make an atom bomb

Western powers suspect Tehran is making an atom bomb under the guise of its civilian nuclear work, a charge Iran denies.

On Saturday, a New York Times report said that a confidential analysis by the IAEA had tentatively concluded that Iran had acquired sufficient information to design and produce a "workable" atom bomb.

The paper said the IAEA report presents evidence that Iran has done extensive research and testing on how to fashion the components of a weapon.

But the document, titled "Possible Military Dimensions of Iran's Nuclear Programme," does not say how far that work has progressed.

It draws a picture of a complex programme run by Iran’s defence ministry "aimed at the development of a nuclear payload to be delivered using the Shahab 3 missile system," which can strike the Middle East and parts of Europe, according to the paper. The programme apparently began in early 2002.

But if Iran is really designing a warhead, that would represent only part of the complex process of making nuclear arms, the Times said.

Engineering studies would have to turn ideas into hardware. Finally, the hardest part would be enriching the uranium that could be used as nuclear fuel -- though experts say Iran has already mastered that task, the paper noted.

The Times said the IAEA report stresses its conclusions are tentative and subject to further confirmation of the evidence.

Iranian analyst Mohammad Saleh Sedghian said Tehran gained an upper hand at the talks in Switzerland as it retained at this stage the right to enrich uranium -- the most controversial part of its nuclear programme.

"Iran was able to get recognition of its enrichment activities when it was agreed that it can offer its low-level enriched uranium to be enriched further outside Iran," Sedghian told AFP.

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