In a ceremony today at the Vienna headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran signed the additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty allowing snap inspections of its nuclear facilities.
Prague, 18 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Ali Akhbar Salehi, Iran's outgoing representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, today signed the additional protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty that will allow international inspectors the right to conduct snap inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities.
The signing comes after months of pressure from the international community. Iran says it agreed to the measure because it wants to prove its nuclear activities are peaceful and convince critics like the United States that it is not pursuing a weapons program.
Today's move was welcomed by the IAEA. Spokesman Mark Gwozdecky told RFE/RL it was a positive step forward.
"We think that it's a big step forward. We'll never be able to detect small activities that might take place in a laboratory, but to mount a full nuclear weapons program is a much different thing, and the protocol gives us a much higher probability of detecting such a thing," Gwozdecky said.
Under an deal brokered by the European Union, Iran announced in October that it would sign the additional protocol, suspend uranium-enrichment activities and offer full disclosure on its nuclear projects. But its procrastination in signing the documents raised fears Tehran might renege in the end.
The United States cautiously welcomed the move but said much remains to be done. U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Tehran's signing of the pact is "only one step toward increasing international confidence that Iran's nuclear program will be limited to peaceful activities and that they will truly suspend all uranium-enrichment-related and reprocessing activities."
To fully convince the world of its good intentions, Boucher added, Tehran will have to fully implement the provisions of the protocol and provide IAEA inspectors with all the access they need. IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky says the additional protocol makes it easier for the agency to uncover and verify the true extent of Iran's nuclear program.
"It gives the IAEA additional authority, additional rights and additional information on the entirety of Iran's nuclear activities, and gives the inspectors broader inspection rights. These, taken together, are a big help to us in terms of being able to verify all of their nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes," Gwozdecky said.
A Tehran government spokesman recently told reporters that Iranian law requires several steps be taken before the agreement can be fully implemented.
The government first needs to approve the protocol and submit it as a bill to parliament. After parliamentary approval, the document is sent on to the conservative Guardians Council to determine whether the legislation is in line with Islamic laws and Iran's constitution.
Some hard-liners inside Iran have called the signing of the protocol a humiliation for the country and capitulation to Western pressure. But analysts say it is highly unlikely the Guardians Council will reject the protocol, as Iran's Supreme Leader -- who has the final say on all matters related to the Islamic Republic -- has already given his blessing.
Under the protocol, countries commit to giving IAEA inspectors information about all of their nuclear sites. They also provide short-notice access to all sites -- sometimes with a warning coming as little as two hours before.
Gwozdecky says the snap inspections have already begun in Iran.
"The broader inspection rights that we get under the protocol have already begun. In fact, Iran has told us going back several months that they would operate as if the protocol were already in force today. And so they've been allowing our inspectors to go where they have asked to go already going back several months," Gwozdecky said.
The signing of the protocol comes after the UN nuclear agency last month condemned Iran for concealing part of its nuclear activities for the past two decades and warned the country against future violations of its nuclear commitments.
The agency, however, said it has not yet found evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful and for civilian use. Gwozdecky says it will take many months to verify Iran's claim.
"That process is going to take many, many months and we're going to need [the Iranian authorities'] cooperation in that time frame in order to do our job. And ultimately, at the end of this process, hopefully we will be at the point where we can say that we have high confidence that their program is peaceful," Gwozdecky said.
Iran today became the 79th country to sign the additional protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Thirty-eight of those have also ratified the document.