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Iran May Grant Nuclear Inspectors Greater Access

The United States, Europe and Russia have been pressing Iran to sign an additional protocol of the Non-Proliferation Treaty that would allow more complete, snap inspections. Under the current NPT, inspectors are only granted access to certain declared nuclear facilities.

“[W]e want to make sure that additional protocol is going to solve the problems and it is going to be enough,” Kharrazi told reporters after meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

Kharrazi’s statement came after Iran admitted Monday that traces of highly enriched uranium were found in the country. Tehran, however, maintained that it came from contaminated equipment bought from another country.

Key negotiations will take place later this week with the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency over inspections of Iran’s nuclear program. The U.N. agency has demanded Iran agree by Oct. 31 to halt all uranium enrichment and allow unfettered inspections.

IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said a team of senior agency inspectors will begin meetings in Tehran on Thursday and would be joined by “technical experts” on Friday to begin a new round of inspections.

He said the IAEA had no comment on the Iranian acknowledgement of the find at Kalay-e Electric Co., just west of Tehran. Earlier this year, U.N. inspectors found highly enriched uranium particles at a plant in Natanz that is supposed to produce only lower-grade uranium for energy purposes.

In recent weeks, agency inspectors had been given access to sites not covered in previous agreements with Tehran, although the IAEA had complained of delays that in some cases appeared to have given authorities time to hide any improper work.

On Sunday, Kharrazi said in an interview on ABC’s “This Week” that Iran was prepared to sign the additional protocol provided it was given assurances it could then continue its nuclear program, including uranium enrichment.

“[I]f we sign additional protocol, we want to make sure that we can continue with the enrichment facilities to produce fuel needed for our power plants,” he said.

Some hard-line elements within Iran are opposed to this apparent willingness to expand the inspections. They argue that Iran should not cave to international pressure and instead should follow North Korea’s example by pulling out of the NPT.

“It is naive to think that after accepting the protocol [on snap inspections] America, the European Union and America’s allies will stop accusing Iran,” said Hossein Shariatmadari, editor of the hard-line Kayhan newspaper.

While some inside the country are opposed to increased inspections, international pressure on Iran to yield to IAEA demands continues to mount. The European Union on Monday called on the oil-rich nation to “immediately comply” with the IAEA’s demands to sign the additional protocol to the NPT “without delay as a first and essential step to restore international trust.”

“The Iranian nuclear program remains a matter of grave concern for the EU,” the union’s foreign ministers said in a statement after a gathering in Brussels.

On Saturday at Camp David, President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin urged Iran to abandon its suspected nuclear-weapons programs. Putin, however, resisted U.S. pressure to stop Russia’s plans to build a power plant in Iran.