Iran agrees to on-the-spot inspections of nuclear facilities

Iran has signed an agreement with the United Nations nuclear watchdog agreeing to allow "enhanced, unannounced and on-the-spot inspections" of its atomic facilities.

The action comes less than a month after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) criticised Tehran's "long-term breaches" of safeguard provisions aimed at preventing the development of nuclear weapons.

The agreement, signed yesterday at the Agency's Vienna headquarters, is an Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Tehran has stated that it is acting in accordance with the Protocol's provisions pending its formal entry into force.

In November IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei reported that Iran had committed numerous breaches of its NPT safeguards agreement in a "deliberate counter-effort" over many years to conceal material, facilities and activities that should have been declared.

These covered the entire spectrum of the nuclear fuel cycle including experiments in enriching uranium and separating plutonium - potential ingredients for nuclear weapons, the IAEA said.

At the time, Mr ElBaradei said the IAEA had no proof that Iran's activities had been linked to a nuclear weapons programme and Iran consistently denied any such intention.

The Protocol signed by Mr ElBaradei and Iranian Ambassador Ali Akbar Salehi requires States to "provide an expanded declaration of their nuclear activities and grants the Agency broader rights of access to sites in the country".

The Agency has been heavily engaged in the verification of the Iranian programme since February but first raised its concerns publicly in June.

Following Mr ElBaradei's report last month, the IAEA Board of Governors adopted a resolution declaring that "should any further serious Iranian failures come to light, the Board of Governors would meet immediately to consider, in the light of the circumstances and of advice from the Director General, all options at its disposal".

These options include referring the matter to the Security Council, which can impose sanctions.

The Director-General is scheduled to provide his next report on the implementation of Agency safeguards in Iran to the Board of Governors in February, just ahead of its March meeting.


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