Under a cooperation pact signed last month to help allay
international concern about Iran's nuclear program, the Islamic
Republic would provide "managed access" to the Gchine mine by early
February for the first time in some eight years.
The IAEA-Iran agreement is separate from a breakthrough accord
between Iran and six world powers reached on November 24 to curb
Tehran's nuclear program in return for a limited easing of sanctions
that have battered the country's economy.
But both deals signaled a rapid thaw in Iran's troubled ties with
the outside world, made possible by the election of a relative
moderate, Hassan Rouhani, as president on a platform of ending Iran's international isolation.
Iran has moved quickly since Rouhani took office in August to
improve relations with the West after years of confrontation under
his hardline predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran denies
accusations it is seeking to develop atomic bombs.
Asked whether a date for the Gchine visit would be agreed during
talks that got under way at around 10 a.m. (0900 GMT) at the IAEA's
Vienna headquarters, Iranian envoy Reza Najafi told reporters: "We
will discuss that."
Najafi, Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, was earlier quoted by Iran's
ISNA news agency as saying: "Iran will set the time of this
inspection and it will be managed."
Allowing the U.N. nuclear agency — which is investigating
allegations that Iran has carried out atomic bomb research — to go
to Gchine was among six concrete steps Iran agreed to under the
November 11 cooperation agreement with the IAEA.
As the first step to be implemented, U.N. inspectors went to the
Arak heavy water production facility on Sunday, a plant that is
linked to a nearby reactor under construction that the West fears
could yield plutonium for bombs once operational.
The other measures to be carried out within three months concerned
provision of information about uranium enrichment plants and
research reactors Iran has said it plans to build.
The IAEA says it needs such access and data to gain a better
understanding of Iran's nuclear program and to ensure there is no
diversion of atomic material for military purposes.
Iran says it is only refining uranium to fuel a planned network of
nuclear power plants. But the same material can also provide the
fissile core of an atomic bomb if enriched more.
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Diplomats say the six first steps are relatively easy to implement
and that it will be more difficult for Iran to agree to future
action sought by the IAEA, including access to the Parchin military
site where the U.N. agency believes nuclear weapons-relevant
explosives tests took place a decade ago.
Najafi said Wednesday's meeting with the IAEA would also discuss
practical measures under the next phase of the cooperation deal, but
he did not specify what they might be.
Going to the Gchine mine, located near the Gulf port of Bandar
Abbas, would allow the U.N. agency to know the amount of natural
uranium mined there, a U.S. think-tank said.
This would make it "harder for Iran to generate a secret stock of
natural uranium that could be used in a clandestine, parallel
centrifuge program," the Institute for Science and International
Security (ISIS) added, referring to the machines used to refine
The mine is believed to have reserves of around 40 metric tons of
uranium. Some Western analysts say Iran may be close to exhausting
its supply of yellowcake — or raw uranium — and that such mining in
the country is not economical.
Iran has said its mines can supply the uranium ore needed for its
nuclear program and that it has no shortage problems.
In Kuwait on Wednesday, Gulf Arab states meeting in a summit
expressed concern over Iran's plans to build more nuclear power
plants in the area but said they saw Tehran's accord with world
powers as a step toward removing all threats from the region.
(Additional reporting by Isabel Coles in Dubai;
editing by Angus MacSwan)
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