Iran Lets In Un Inspectors Ahead Of Nuclear Report
Iran has made significant concessions to UN nuclear inspectors days before a highly critical report on the country's nuclear programme is due to be published, diplomats said today.
Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) visited Iran's nearly complete heavy water reactor near the central town of Arak last week, after having been barred from the site for a year. Western officials say the reactor could be used to make plutonium, but Tehran maintains it is for research and the production of medically useful isotopes.
IAEA inspectors became alarmed when they were no longer allowed access to the site last year and a roof was constructed over the reactor so they were no longer able to keep track of its progress from satellite photographs.
Diplomats also told the Guardian tonight that the Iranian government had made concessions over IAEA monitoring at Iran's highly controversial uranium enrichment plant at Natanz.
The UN security council has demanded that Iran suspend uranium enrichment at Natanz until it can prove it is for the peaceful purposes Tehran claims. The Iranian government has refused to comply, defying several waves of financial sanctions.
The IAEA has cameras inside Natanz, but had complained that it could not monitor the operation of the roughly 7,000 uranium-enriching centrifuges there, while new centrifuges were constantly being installed. According to diplomats in Vienna, where the IAEA has its headquarters, the Iranians have agreed to change their work patterns to make it easier for inspectors. The change is important as the IAEA needs to certify that the centrifuges at Natanz are arranged in a way that produces low-enriched uranium (suitable for power generation) rather than highly enriched uranium (used in weapons).
The concessions come days before the publication of a new IAEA report that is expected to be highly critical of Iran's co-operation with the agency.
Barack Obama has said that Iran has until the end of the year to show readiness to comply with UN demands, but western officials have said that it should be clear by next month whether the government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is ready to compromise in the wake of his disputed re-election.
If not, the US, British and French governments will begin to push for far stiffer sanctions at a G20 meeting in Pittsburgh on 24 September and at a UN summit in New York. If Russia and China resist, as many western officials expect, Washington and its allies will consider measures by a "coalition of the willing" possibly focused on blocking Iranian access to refined petroleum. Any such move would dramatically raise tensions in the Gulf, but sources in Washington and London believe strong action is essential if there is to be any chance of stopping a nuclear arms race in the Middle East and a possible Israeli military strike against Iranian nuclear targets.
Germany has previously been less enthusiastic about sanctions than the US, Britain and France, but yesterday the chancellor, Angela Merkel, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that "economic sanctions in the area of the energy sector" were being debated.
One western official said Iran's concessions were aimed at defusing some of the momentum towards punitive action. "They always do this. Just before a really bad report they will give something away," the official said.