ElBaradei bound for Iran to pin down Geneva accord

VIENNA (Reuters) – The head of the UN nuclear watchdog will head to Iran this weekend to pin down an Iranian pledge, made at talks with big powers on Thursday, to open a newly revealed atomic plant to inspections. The Geneva meeting, which also yielded agreement on follow-up talks later this month, lowered the tension a notch in a standoff over fears that Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons.

But Western powers said Iran must give access to the nascent enrichment site within two weeks and offer broader gestures of transparency at the second round of talks to gain a longer respite from the threat of tougher UN sanctions.

Iran emerged from the talks looking more cooperative but avoided the main issue by insisting on a sovereign right to atomic energy, again sidestepping an offer of trade incentives for curbing its nuclear programme.

Iran also gave no ground on UN demands for unfettered UN inspections to verify that it is not harbouring more covert nuclear production or research sites, as Western officials suspect.

“Yesterday’s talks were clearly a first step but others (by Iran) must follow,” German government spokesman Andreas Peschke told a news conference.

US President Barack Obama spoke of a “constructive beginning” but insisted Iran must do much more to prove it was not pursuing nuclear weapons capability, not merely generating capacity as it says.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the agreements reached in Geneva “inspire cautious optimism” and added that it was important “to make sure these agreements are fully and timely met,” Interfax news agency reported.

RIA news agency quoted Lavrov as saying Iran had agreed to give IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspectors access to its second enrichment plant “to resolve all the issues around this plant.”

Diplomats said IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei would fly to Tehran today and stay throughout Sunday to flesh out dates and conditions for IAEA access to Iran’s newly disclosed enrichment site.

ElBaradei was last in Iran in January 2008 to negotiate the implementation of Iranian steps, still incomplete, to clarify concerns about its nuclear programme.

Iran said on Thursday IAEA access to its second enrichment site, buried inside a mountain on a former Revolutionary Guards base, was “not far away”, but offered no time frame.

ElBaradei said this week that Iran was “on the wrong side of the law” in failing to declare the plant as soon as plans were drawn up. US, British and French intelligence services have determined that construction began 3½ years ago.

Western officials said Iran had agreed “in principle” on Thursday 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.

But in an early warning of minefields ahead, a senior Iranian official denied Western accounts that Tehran had agreed to send out 80 percent of its enriched uranium stockpile. “We have not agreed on any amount or any numbers,” he said.

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