IAEA inspection of the Iranian nuclear site began on Saturday, three weeks after its existence was revealed, the Financial Times of London said on Sunday.[1]  --  The development is a reassuring sign during what are "critical days for international diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear program," when "the focus of attention continues to be on whether Tehran will accept a deal with the U.S., Russia, and France which would require it to reduce its existing stock of low enriched uranium," Najmeh Bozorgmehr and James Blitz reported.  --  AP reported the inspection of the site, known as Fordo, "after a village believed to have the largest percentage of fighters killed in the 1980-88 war with Iraq," was carried out by a four-member team.[2]  --  "The inspectors are expected to compare Iran's engineering plans with the actual layout of the plant, interview employees, and take environmental samples to check for the presence of nuclear materials."  --  The site is "protected by military installations including missile silos and anti-aircraft batteries" and "will not be operational for another 18 months," according to Iranian officials.  --  "The small-scale site is meant to house no more than 3,000 centrifuges -- much less than the estimated 8,000 machines at Natanz, Iran's known industrial-scale enrichment facility. . . . Iran says it has built the facility inside a mountain next to a military site to protect its nuclear activities in case of an attack by the U.S. or Israel." ...

1.

Middle East

Politics & society

U.N. INSPECTORS BEGIN VISIT TO QOM NUCLEAR PLANT

By Najmeh Bozorgmehr (Tehran) and James Blitz (London)

Financial Times (London)
October 25, 2009

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/820a7dec-c176-11de-b86b-00144feab49a.html


United Nations inspectors on Saturday began visiting Iran’s hitherto secret uranium enrichment plant near the holy city of Qom, in what is set to be another major test of whether Tehran will co-operate with world powers over the direction of its nuclear program.

In what are critical days for international diplomacy over Iran’s nuclear program, the focus of attention continues to be on whether Tehran will accept a deal with the U.S., Russia, and France which would require it to reduce its existing stock of low enriched uranium.

However, Saturday’s visit by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the second enrichment site near Qom is seen by Western diplomats as another important pointer as to how far Iran is prepared to cooperate with the international community.

The U.S. and Iran disclosed the existence of the new facility last month, some three years after Tehran had started construction.  Iran insists it did not violate IAEA regulations by failing to disclose the existence of the plant to the U.N. agency, something that is disputed by Western governments.

The U.S. and its allies say that they will now watch closely to see how far Iran co-operates with the IAEA inspection of the Qom site -- and how readily Iran answers questions that the agency has about its nature and purpose.

Western diplomats are disappointed that the IAEA is being allowed into the site more than three weeks after its existence was made public.  The IAEA will want to know whether nuclear material has been introduced to the site and whether it was built for the manufacture of weapons grade uranium.

Western diplomats, meanwhile, are waiting to see how Iran responds this week to the offer from the U.S., Russia, and France over its current stock of low enriched uranium.

Iran was given a deadline of last Friday to respond to the proposal, under which it would ship out 85 per cent of its low enriched uranium and receive uranium enriched at 20 per cent grade that can create medical isotopes for cancer treatment.

However, Iran said on Friday night it needed more time for a decision and Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s IAEA ambassador, said the Islamic regime would respond this week.

President Barack Obama called Russian and French presidents Dmitry Medvedev and Nicolas Sarkozy on Saturday, thanking them for agreeing to supply Iran with fuel for a research reactor after talks in Vienna last week.  The three leaders “affirmed their full support” for the plan, according to the White House.

In Tehran, some Iranian politicians have expressed dismay with the proposed agreement which they argue would put the country’s nuclear achievements at stake.

Ali Larijani, the parliamentary speaker and a former top nuclear negotiator, warned against the West’s “hypocrisy” in taking away the bulk of the current stock of low enriched uranium in exchange for higher grade uranium, saying “there is no link between the two.”  The fuel for Tehran’s reactor “must be provided [anyway] according to IAEA regulations,” he said.

It was not immediately clear if his comments reflect the views of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last say in all state affairs, in particular relating to the nuclear program.

Mr. Larijani’s criticism of the proposed deal could be motivated by the political infighting between conservatives like himself and the fundamentalist president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

2.

World news

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)

U.N. INSPECTORS VISIT URANIUM ENRICHMENT FACILITY IN IRAN


Associated Press
October 25, 2009

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/oct/25/un-secret-uranium-enrichment-facility-iran


[PHOTO CAPTION: A satellite view of a uranium-enrichment facility near Qom, Iran.]

U.N. inspectors got their first look today inside a once-secret uranium enrichment facility that has raised Western suspicions about the extent of Iran's nuclear program.

The semi-official Mehr news agency reported that the four-member team visited the heavily protected facility, carved into a mountainside south of Tehran.  The tour marked the first independent examination of the site, but no results were expected until after the inspectors leave Iran later this week.

The review also coincides with the countdown to Iran's expected decision on whether to accept a U.N.-brokered deal to process its nuclear fuel abroad -- a plan designed to ease Western fears about Iran's potential ability to produce weapons-grade material.

The disclosure last month of Iran's second enrichment facility -- known as Fordo after a village believed to have the largest percentage of fighters killed in the 1980-88 war with Iraq -- raised international suspicion over the extent and aim of Tehran's nuclear program.

But Iran says that by reporting the existence of the site voluntarily to the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, it "pre-empted a conspiracy" against Tehran by the U.S. and its allies who were hoping to present the site as evidence that Iran was developing its nuclear program in secret.

Iran also has promised to respond later this week on a U.N.-drafted proposal to have its nuclear fuel processed outside the country.  Iran claims it only seeks peaceful reactors for research and energy.

Although Iran has not given its official answer on the proposed nuclear deal -- discussed last week after talks in Vienna with the U.S., France, and Russia -- there are increasing doubts that Iran's leadership will come on board.

Yesterday, parliament speaker Ali Larijani claimed the West was trying to "cheat" Iran under the deal that would ship most of Iran's uranium to Russia for reactor-ready enrichment.

Larijani, the country's former nuclear negotiator, said Iran prefers to buy the nuclear fuel it needs for a reactor under construction that makes medical isotopes.

He did not specifically address the fuel needs for Iran's planned Russian-built full-scale reactor, but Russia is required to provide fuel as part of agreement to build it for Iran in the southern city of Bushehr.  The reactor is nearly operational.

Rejection of the U.N. deal would force the U.S. and its allies to either return to talks or step up demands for greater economic sanctions.

The four-member delegation from the International Atomic Energy Agency is led by Herman Nackaerts, director of the IAEA's division of operations department of safeguards.  The inspectors are expected to stay three days in Iran.

The inspectors are expected to compare Iran's engineering plans with the actual layout of the plant, interview employees, and take environmental samples to check for the presence of nuclear materials.

Iranian lawmakers said the visit was evidence that Iran is open about its nuclear activities.

"IAEA inspectors' visit to Fordo shows that Iran's nuclear activities are transparent and peaceful," the official IRNA news agency quoted lawmaker Hasan Ebrahimi as saying.

The Fordo uranium enrichment site, about 20 miles north of Qom, is protected by military installations including missile silos and anti-aircraft batteries, Iranian officials said last month.

Iran says the facility will not be operational for another 18 months.

The small-scale site is meant to house no more than 3,000 centrifuges -- much less than the estimated 8,000 machines at Natanz, Iran's known industrial-scale enrichment facility.  Still, the enriching machines in Qom facility will produce nuclear fuel, which could possibly be further enriched into material for atomic warheads.

Iran says it has built the facility inside a mountain next to a military site to protect its nuclear activities in case of an attack by the U.S. or Israel.