IAEA Insepctiors 311 R.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
VIENNA - A team of senior UN nuclear officials could visit Iran in
January, the Islamic state's ambassador to the International Atomic
Energy Agency told Reuters.
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Ali Asghar Soltanieh said on Tuesday
that Iran had renewed an invitation for an IAEA team to travel to Tehran
and he suggested Iranian officials would be ready to discuss
international concerns about the country's nuclear program.
later gave further details in an interview with Reuters television on
Wednesday evening, saying preliminary arrangements for the visit would
be made in the first week of January.
"Any time after that, after
the composition of the team is finalized, they are welcome to come.
Therefore I assume that perhaps in January this visit will be made,"
Iran's latest overture to the Vienna-based UN
agency, which has long urged Tehran to address disputes about its
nuclear agenda, coincides with a sharpening of international sanctions
imposed on Iran over its nuclear work.
Western diplomats tend to
see such invitations as attempts by Iran, a major oil producer, to buy
time and ease international pressure without heeding UN demands to curb
activity that could be put to making atomic bombs and to be transparent
about its program to ease misgivings about it.
One Western envoy
this week dismissed Iran's new offer of talks as part of a "charm
offensive" without any commitment from Tehran "to talk substance".
Iran says it is enriching uranium solely for peaceful purposes but its foes suspect this has military aims.
fears that Iran is seeking to develop atomic bomb capability were
reinforced by a November 8 IAEA report that said Tehran appeared to have
worked on designing a nuclear weapon.Announcement follows increased US rhetoric on Iran
In an interview with CBS News on Monday, US
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that Iran will be able to assemble a nuclear bomb within a year, if not sooner.
When asked by CBS News anchor Scott Pelley if Iran could
get a nuclear weapon by 2012, Panetta answered: “It would probably be about a
year before they can do it. Perhaps a little less.”He added that the
Iranians may have a hidden facility somewhere already enriching fuel, meaning
they may be able to develop a nuclear weapon even earlier.
In an interview with CNN on Wednesday, Chairman
of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey reiterated
Washington's resolve to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear power. "My biggest worry is they will miscalculate our resolve," Dempsey said,
referring to Iran. "Any miscalculation could mean that we are drawn into
conflict, and that would be a tragedy for the region and the world."Suspicion of Iran's nuclear program stoked by secrecy
have been stoked by Iranian secrecy and lack of full cooperation with
inspectors from the IAEA, whose job is to verify that countries' nuclear
activities are peaceful.
Iran says its nuclear work is a peaceful bid to generate electricity so that it can export more of its oil and gas.
Iran initially invited Herman Nackaerts, IAEA deputy director general
and head of nuclear safeguards inspections worldwide, in October. But
Iran's angry reaction to the agency report the following month threw
those plans into doubt.
Previous visits to Iran by senior IAEA officials have failed to make
significant progress towards resolving the long-running row over Iran's
nuclear program, a dispute which has the potential to ignite a wider
conflict in the Middle East.
IAEA inspectors monitor Iran's declared nuclear sites but their movements are otherwise restricted.
IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano has made clear that any new visit by
his senior officials to Tehran must address the agency's growing
concerns about potential military dimensions to the nuclear program.
An IAEA spokeswoman said on Wednesday the agency was "working on a possible visit" to Iran, without elaborating.Herb Keinon contributed to this report.