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El-Baradei Says IAEA To Inspect Iran's Qom Site

IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei

IAEA Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei

TEHRAN (Reuters) -. UN experts will inspect Iran's newly disclosed uranium enrichment plant on October 25, the IAEA nuclear agency chief said, praising a shift "from conspiracy to cooperation" in Tehran's dealings with the West.

The underground nuclear fuel facility near the holy Shi'ite city of Qom had been kept secret until Iran disclosed its existence last month, setting off an international furor.

Iran agreed with six world powers -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany -- in Geneva on October 1 to allow IAEA inspectors unfettered access to the plant in central Iran.

"IAEA inspectors will visit Iran's new enrichment facility, under construction in Qom, on 25th of October," International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohammed el-Baradei told a joint news conference with Iran's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi on October 4.

"It is important for us to have comprehensive cooperation over the Qom site ... It is important for us to send our inspectors to assure ourselves that this facility is for peaceful purposes."

The West suspects the Islamic state is covertly seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Iran insists it needs the nuclear technology to generate power to meet booming domestic demand.

Disclosure Dispute

El-Baradei said the IAEA and Iran disagreed over the timing of the disclosure of the pilot enrichment plant.

"Iran should have informed the IAEA the day they had decided to construct the facility," he said, referring to an IAEA transparency statute that was tightened in 1992 to require immediate notification of planned nuclear facilities.

Previously a state had to alert the IAEA of a new site just six months before introducing nuclear materials into it.

But Salehi rejected this, saying: "Ever since the unfair entry of the U.N. Security Council into Iran's nuclear dossier, we reverted to the old arrangement in protest at U.N. sanctions."

He said he would discuss details of the inspection with the IAEA in Vienna on October 19.

Iran has said the site, which has space for about 3,000 centrifuges, is about 18 months away from going on line.

The October 1 talks in Geneva are expected to win Iran a reprieve from tougher U.N. sanctions, although Western powers are likely to be wary of any attempt by Tehran to buy time to develop its nuclear program.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili said the outcome of the Geneva talks was "agreement over the manner of continuing talks with six powers", the Abrar daily reported.

El-Baradei said that remaining differences could be resolved through diplomacy. "The relation between Iran and the world powers is shifting from conspiracy to transparency and cooperation," he said.

The New York Times reported on October 3 that a confidential IAEA staff had concluded that Iran has acquired "sufficient information to be able to design and produce" an atom bomb.

El-Baradei said there was no "concrete proof" that Iran was seeking nuclear weapons capability but the IAEA remained concerned over the possibility.

Western officials said Iran had agreed "in principle" in Thursday's meeting to ship out most of its enriched uranium for reprocessing in Russia and France. It would then be returned to power a Tehran reactor that makes medical isotopes.