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UN nuclear watchdog wants speedy return to Iran
The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, said on Sunday the speedy return of U.N. inspectors would help dispel suspicions that Iran suspended nuclear inspections because it has something to hide.
"I have just been in contact with the Iranian authorities to express my concern about our need to go back as early as possible," he said after arriving in Washington for a four-day official visit during which he will meet with U.S. President Bush.
"They said that they understood and would come back to me upon my return to Vienna," ElBaradei said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency's governing board condemned Iran on Saturday for withholding sensitive nuclear information. Iran hit back, saying the reason it had suspended U.N. nuclear inspections on Friday was to show its displeasure at the resolution, then in draft form.
Several Western diplomats said they suspected Iran, accused by Washington of having a secret atomic weapons program, may have frozen inspections because it has something to hide.
"The best way obviously to answer all of these suspicions is for us to go back as early as possible," ElBaradei told reporters during the flight.
He said he was confident Iran, which insists its program is peaceful, would reverse its decision over the next few days.
Iran has been lobbying the IAEA's 35 board members to take it off the agency's agenda, but Saturday's resolution made sure that it would be a top priority item at the June board meeting.
ElBaradei said he hoped to wrap up his 13-month probe of Iran's nuclear program by the end of the year, though this would depend on getting full transparency from Iran.
"If there's no smoking gun, if there's no 800-pound gorilla ... I see no reason why we should not be able to have at least most of it wrapped up by the end of the year," he said.
However, if the IAEA is to end its probe, Tehran needed to give him the comprehensive declaration of its atomic plans required under the IAEA's Additional Protocol.
"We need the declaration under the protocol as early as possible. I need full transparency," ElBaradei said.
Iran signed the protocol, which grants the agency broader inspection powers and the right to much more information about a country's nuclear program, in December. It has yet to ratify the document, but said it would act as if the protocol were in force.
In October, Iran submitted a declaration it said was complete but left out information on sensitive items such as the advanced "P2" centrifuge, capable of making bomb-grade uranium.
ElBaradei said the failure to declare the P2 research was "a great setback" and the main reason for Saturday's resolution.
"We would not have been where we are today, with that kind of resolution, if that P2 had not come to light, if that P2 would have been declared," he said.
"What I know, and I told the Iranians, if there is anything still that needs to be declared ... come with it yesterday, not tomorrow," he said.
At the same time, ElBaradei said that wrapping up his investigation of Iran's nuclear program also depended on the cooperation of other countries -- especially Pakistan, which Iran says is the country of origin of centrifuge parts contaminated with weapons-grade uranium.
"They have been cooperating, but I still need more cooperation from Pakistan. I need environmental sampling from Pakistan to do comparative analysis," he said.
Last year, IAEA inspectors found traces of highly enriched uranium on uranium-enrichment centrifuges at the Natanz and Kalaye Electric facilities.
Iran got its centrifuges from a black market linked to the father of Pakistan's atom bomb, Abdul Qadeer Khan, who admitted leaking nuclear secrets to Iran, Libya and North Korea.