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Iran to sign and ratify protocol on nuclear checks
( 2003-10-21 22:20) (Reuters)

Iran agreed on Tuesday to sign and ratify an agreement on tougher inspections of its nuclear sites and suspend uranium enrichment and processing in a bid to ease international fears it is building atomic weapons.

 A declaration on the agreement was issued after meetings between Iranian officials and the British, French and German foreign ministers, who urged Iran to comply with an October 31 UN deadline to dispel doubts about its nuclear ambitions.

 A senior Iranian official said the decision to freeze the uranium enrichment programme was a temporary measure aimed at fostering trust in its peaceful intentions. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin called it a "promising start".

 "Having received the necessary clarifications, the Iranian government has decided to sign the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol and commence ratification procedures," said the joint declaration issued after the talks.

 "While Iran has a right within the nuclear non-proliferation regime to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes it has decided voluntarily to suspend all uranium enrichment and processing activities as defined by the IAEA," it added.

 The declaration made no mention of any date for the undertakings by Iran but an Iranian official told Reuters Iran would probably sign the protocol on nuclear checks by the next IAEA board meeting on November 20.

 "I don't think we will sign it (the protocol) before October 31 but probably before November 20," Supreme National Security Council chief Hassan Rohani said.

 IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei has warned Iran's case may go to the UN Security Council if he cannot verify in his November report that Iran has no intention of building nuclear arms.

 Regarding uranium enrichment, Rohani said: "We voluntarily chose to do it which means it could last for one day or one year, it depends on us. As long as Iran thinks that this suspension is beneficial for us it will continue and whenever we don't want it we will end it."

 De Villepin told a news conference: "We have achieved this morning important progress and we found a basis for agreement on the three pending issues."

 These were: immediate signature and early implementation of additional protocol; full cooperation with the IAEA and suspension of all Iranian enrichment.

 "This is we hope a promising start in which everyone has to play their part," he said.


 German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said: "This is an important day... we have concerns and an obligation to solve the problem and we can now move forward. This agreement is opening a serious process to resolve the nuclear issue between Iran and the international community."

 But a Western diplomat in Vienna said it might not be enough to prevent a negative report by ElBaradei. "This doesn't mean it's over by a longshot," the diplomat told Reuters.

 Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi earlier pledged full transparency on its nuclear programme. "We are ready for total transparency because we are not pursuing an illegal programme," he said.

 According to the Tehran declaration, the EU ministers in turn recognised Iran's right to develop a civilian nuclear energy programme and held out the prospect of "easier access to modern technology and supplies in a range of areas."

 "We all respect the rights of any sovereign nation to have a civil nuclear programme but at the same time not to be involved in any proliferation activities," UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said.

 Enriched uranium can be used to fuel reactors but if enriched further, can be used in warheads.

 Many Iranians are loath to surrender an enrichment programme which means they do not have to rely on foreigners at any stage of the nuclear process.

 Nearly 100 students gathered on Tuesday in Tehran to protest against the EU ministers. "Shame on your hypocrisy, imperialist ambassadors," read another of their banners, while one poster called on Iran to pull out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty altogether as North Korea did earlier this year.

 The joint initiative signalled much closer cooperation on Iran's nuclear programme by the three big European Union powers, whose opinions on the US-led war in Iraq differed markedly.

 It was not clear whether their proposal was backed by Washington, which has tended to frown on any deal-making with Iran's clerical leaders.

 Asked if the EU was defying the United States by offering technical assistance to Iran on its nuclear energy programme, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told France Inter radio" "I don't know if 'defying' the United States is the right word or not. We simply want to solve a very difficult issue for the region via dialogue and political means."

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