Iran Signs Protocol Allowing Snap U.N. Nuclear Inspections

Iranian representative Ali Akbar Salehi and Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency, signed the Additional Protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at the IAEA’s headquarters in Vienna.

“My country has taken a great and important step towards revealing its attitude of transparency and its full commitment to international confidence-building,” Salehi said.

“I ardently hope that the new stage is set and that my country shall no more be subject to unfair and politically motivated accusations and allegations,” he said.

ElBaradei labeled the signing “an important building block toward establishing confidence that Iran’s program is exclusively for peaceful purposes.” He called on the Iranian government to ratify the agreement quickly.

“I was assured that Iran, until the protocol is ratified, will act as though the protocol is in force, which is positive,” he said, according to Reuters.

The signing of the agreement came after months of pressure from European nations and a U.S. push for Iran to be threatened with U.N. sanctions if it did not come clean with all the details of its nuclear activities.

“Iran’s signature today of the Additional Protocol is a useful step in the right direction,” said Kenneth Brill, U.S. envoy to the IAEA. He added that it was “only a first step” and now had to be ratified and enter into force.

“Given Iran’s nearly two decades of deception, rigorous verification of the protocol’s implementation by IAEA inspectors over a period of several years will be critical if the international community is to begin to gain confidence in the consistency of Iran’s actions with its international obligations,” Brill said.

President Bush labeled Iran part of an “axis of evil” along with Iraq and North Korea in his 2002 State of the Union address and the United States says Iran is using its atomic energy program as a smokescreen to develop nuclear arms.

Iran’s leadership, which has long claimed that its nuclear program is a peaceful one aimed only at generating domestic energy, insists the inspections will clear it of any suspicion.

“We have agreed to sign … to give a strong response to accusations against us and demonstrate that our nuclear activities are peaceful,” Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh told reporters in Tehran.

The IAEA’s 35-nation board of governors censured Iran in November for secrecy surrounding its nuclear programs and called on Tehran to accelerate cooperation with international inspectors and alleviate concerns that it may have secret nuclear ambitions.

The recent suspicions surrounding Iran’s nuclear programs were intensified when an exiled Iranian opposition group claimed that Tehran was hiding several large nuclear facilities.

Under international pressure, Iran also has agreed to suspend its enrichment of uranium, which it says had been confined to non-weapons levels.