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Diplomats: UN lacks right to inspect sites in Iran
VIENNA - Inspectors from the U.N. nuclear watchdog would like to visit a secret military site in Iran that an exile group said was a nuclear weapons site, but they lack the legal authority to go there, U.N. diplomats told Reuters.
Iran, which insists its nuclear program is solely for electricity generation, earlier this week escaped possible U.N. Security Council economic sanctions after agreeing to freeze all activities which could be used to make bomb-grade material.
The New York Times reported Thursday that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) believes satellite photographs show that high explosives are being tested and that procurement records show equipment has been bought that can be used for making bomb-grade uranium, citing unnamed diplomats.
The intelligence came from several sources, including nations that are members of the IAEA, the Times reported.
But the military sites the inspectors would like to inspect -- the Parchin military complex southeast of Tehran and Lavizan II in northeastern Tehran -- are legally off limits to the IAEA, which only has the right to monitor civilian nuclear programs.
"The IAEA simply has no authority to go to sites that are not declared nuclear sites," a diplomat close to the IAEA inspection process told Reuters. He said that the IAEA had not asked to inspect Lavizan II, although they would like to.
Last December, Iran signed the IAEA's Additional Protocol, granting the agency more authority to conduct short-notice, intrusive inspections. Although the protocol has not been ratified, Tehran has been acting as if it was in force.
However, this extended authority is only limited to declared sites. Additional access to locations like Parchin and Lavizan II has to be negotiated with the country under inspection.
The diplomat described it as "depressing" that the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an Iranian exile group with a history of revealing hidden nuclear sites in Iran, said recently that Lavizan II was a secret atomic weapons site and then days later reported that it was being stripped clean.
"TERRIBLE BLOW" TO IAEA INSPECTIONS
"If a country has a strategy for hiding its nuclear program, then the Additional Protocol is of little use," a U.N. diplomat said, adding that the IAEA would not have been able to prove that Libya had an atomic arms program if Muammar Gaddafi had not confessed and handed over his atom bomb designs.
He said that if Iran was hiding a nuclear weapons program, as Washington believes, the IAEA would probably never find it without additional inspection authority.
Diplomats and weapons experts said that the IAEA inspection process had been dealt a severe blow this week when France, Britain and Germany gave in to Iranian demands that a clause demanding Iran grant the IAEA "unrestricted access" to sites in Iran be removed from a draft resolution.
The resolution passed by the IAEA board only calls on Iran to grant access "in accordance with the Additional Protocol."
"It was a terrible blow to this effort to find these potential nuclear weapons sites," David Albright, a former U.N. weapons inspector and head of a Washington-based think-tank, told Reuters.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei has asked Iran many times for access to another military site called Parchin, also suspected to be a location for nuclear weapons activity. But a November report by the IAEA said it had received no response from Tehran.
ElBaradei has said that it could take at least two years to resolve all the issues surrounding Iran's nuclear program, even if the country fully cooperates, because of the fact that its program was concealed for nearly two decades.