Iran: We'll allow UN officials to inspect new uranium enrichment plant
Iran's Revolutionary Guards dismiss the U.S.-led drive to impose sanctions as 'ridiculous.'
Iran will allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect its new enrichment site in Natanz in central Iran, the Iranian envoy to the IAEA said Saturday.
Ali-Asqar Soltanieh told ISNA news agency that Iranian and IAEA experts met in Vienna and agreed on inspections of the new site, where Iran is pursuing the 20 percent uranium enrichment process.
The Iranian envoy said that the inspections will take place within the framework of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), indicating that the IAEA would be obliged to coordinate the inspections in advance with Tehran.
Iran withdrew from the IAEA Additional Protocol, under which the IAEA could have made snap inspections, in 2005.
Soltanieh said that any changes in Iran's nuclear projects would be in coordination with the IAEA, adding that he hoped that the United Nations nuclear watchdog would reflect this new instance of cooperation in its next report.
Iran started the 20 percent uranium enrichment process in Natanz in February after a plan brokered in October by the IAEA - under which Iran would swap its low-enriched uranium (LEU) for fuel made in Russia and France for a medical reactor in Tehran - failed.
Tehran said that it would still be ready to accept the deal but only with the condition that the swap be made inside Iran. The IAEA and world powers have so far rejected the Iranian condition.
Although the uranium exchange deal would not have fully settled the dispute over Iran's controversial nuclear projects, it was regarded by both sides as a first step towards ending the seven-year deadlock.
The U.S. and its allies are pushing toward renewed sanctions against the Islamic state through a new UN Security Council resolution. They accuse Iran of not fully cooperating with the IAEA.
China and Russia, both strategic partners of Iran, have also reportedly changed their attitude towards new sanctions and may join the West in punitive measures.
Tehran has in response begun what it calls "active counter-diplomacy" with Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki due to visit Austria - currently a rotating member of the UN Security Council - on Sunday and hold talks with officials in Vienna about the nuclear dispute and probable sanctions.
The Iranian chief diplomat is reportedly due to visit other European capitals though no details have yet been disclosed about host countries.
Meanwhile, Iran's president on Saturday said proposed UN sanctions against the country's nuclear program lack legal validity.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said during a visit to Uganda that he will not accept sanctions. He said sanctions would hurt the reputation of the U.S. and President Barack Obama.
Ahmadinejad arrived Friday in the East African nation to discuss Iran's nuclear program. Uganda is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and has not yet ruled out the possibility of voting for sanctions against Iran.
Iran has been under harsh criticism from Western nations for pressing ahead with uranium enrichment programs it says are to produce nuclear energy. The West fears the militant Islamic state could develop nuclear weapons
Iran's Revolutionary Guards dismissed as "ridiculous" on Saturday the U.S.-led drive to impose sanctions on the elite force, underlining Tehran's defiance in the face of Western pressure over its nuclear program.
Senior commander Yadollah Javani also said the Guards could easily replace foreign oil companies such as Shell and Total in domestic energy projects.
Iran's long-running dispute with the West over its atomic activities has made Western energy companies increasingly reluctant to invest in the world's fifth-largest oil exporter.
Analysts say the political and the economic influence of the Guards appears to have grown since hard-line Ahmadinejad, himself a former Guardsman, came to power in 2005.
The force played a key role in quelling street unrest that erupted after Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election last June.
"Imposing sanctions on the Revolutionary Guards is rather ridiculous because even with all the propaganda they couldn't reach their goal of imposing sanctions on the Islamic Republic," ILNA news agency quoted Javani as saying.