UN Chief: IAEA Inspection of Iran Nuke Site Is a Positive Step

Iran TV: Iran to hand its response on nuclear draft deal to IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei on Thursday.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday welcomed as 'a positive step' Iran's decision to allow UN nuclear inspectors access to a recently disclosed uranium enrichment plant in the Islamic Republic.

"I also welcome the draft agreement circulated by the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] related to the supply of fuel for the Tehran research reactor," he said, adding that it would "constitute an important confidence building measure and could set the stage for further advances in the negotiations."

Earlier Wednesday, the semi-official Mehr News Agency reported that Iran's envoy to the IAEA will present Tehran's position on a draft nuclear fuel deal in Vienna on Thursday.

Mehr, citing an informed source, said Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh would personally give Iran's response to Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog. It said Soltanieh would leave for Austria on Wednesday.

Echoing a report by Iranian state television on Tuesday, Mehr said Iran would accept the framework of the agreement but also propose changes, a move that could unravel the plan and expose Tehran to the threat of harsher sanctions.

Under the draft deal hammered out by ElBaradei earlier this month after talks in Vienna with Iran, the United States, France and Russia, Iran would send low-enriched uranium (LEU) abroad for further processing and eventual use in a research reactor.

The draft pact calls for Iran to transfer around 75 percent of its known 1.5 tonnes of LEU to Russia for further enrichment by the end of this year, then to France for conversion into fuel plates. These would be returned to Tehran to power a research reactor that produces radio-isotopes for cancer treatment.

Another Iranian news agency, ISNA, quoted a senior lawmaker as also saying Iran would present its position on Thursday.

"Iran will present its response to the [UN nuclear] agency's proposal on Thursday," said Mohammad Karamirad, a member of parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, ISNA news agency reported.

Senior lawmakers have said Iran should import foreign nuclear fuel rather than send abroad by the end of this year much of its own LEU stock - a crucial strategic asset in talks with world powers - as the proposal stipulates.

State television said on Tuesday Iran opposed sending its uranium stockpile abroad in one go.

"According to an informed source in Vienna, Iran in its final response to the agency, while accepting the framework, will propose changes," Mehr said in its report on Wednesday.

The European Union's foreign policy chief said on Tuesday there was no need to rework the UN draft and he and France's foreign minister suggested Tehran would rekindle demands for tougher international sanctions if it tried to undo the plan.

Iran says it is enriching uranium only for power plant fuel, not for nuclear warheads. But its history of nuclear secrecy and continued restrictions on UN inspections have raised Western suspicions Iran is latently pursuing nuclear weapons capability.

Understandings on the fuel plan and UN monitoring of a newly disclosed enrichment site under construction were forged at Geneva talks on Oct. 1 between Iran and six world powers - the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain.

Iran's pledges in Geneva won itself a reprieve from sanctions targeting its oil sector but Western powers stressed they would not wait indefinitely for Tehran to follow through.

Senior Iranian MP Alaeddin Boroujerdi said UN experts who arrived in Iran early on Sunday to inspect the new enrichment site about 160 km south of Tehran had left the country, ISNA reported, without giving details.

There was no immediate comment from the IAEA in Vienna.