Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Saturday, December 20, 2003

Iran promises 'nuclear transparency' with signing NPT protocol

In face of mounting international pressure and taking into consideration its national interest, Iran has experienced a year of significant readjustment of its stance on "nuclear transparency" in 2003.


In face of mounting international pressure and taking into consideration its national interest, Iran has experienced a year of significant readjustment of its stance on "nuclear transparency" in 2003.

Ali Akbar Salehi, Iranian ambassador to the Vienna-headquartered International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), signed an additional protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) on Dec. 18.

The signature, which would subject Iran to snap inspections of its nuclear facilities, was immediately welcomed by the international community as "an important tool for establishing confidence" despite the US argument that it was only one step towards resolving the remaining open questions about Iran's nuclear programme.

The signed document will have to be sent to the Iranian parliament for approval. And then it must also be submitted to the country's conservative-controlled Guardians Council which is to decide if it is in line with the constitution and Islamic Sharia law.

Although the deal has been given the blessing of the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all matters of state, Iran's signing of the additional protocol could face tough opposition from hardliners during its complex approval.

A number of influential conservatives have voiced their opposition to allowing the tougher inspections and several had gone so far as to suggest following the path of North Korea and pulling out of the NPT altogether.

As a signatory to the NPT, Iran has been accused by the United States of using its nuclear energy programme as cover for plans to build atomic weapons which could be directed at Israel. Tehran has vehemently denied the claims.

Iran repeatedly assured the international community that its nuclear program is "totally transparent" and in line with the respective conventions and international laws as the program has been under regular supervision of the IAEA.

Resisting the mounting US pressure to sign the additional protocol to NPT, Iran had long argued that inspectors could violate national sovereignty and probe sites that are crucial to the defence of the country.

After the US-led coalition forces toppled the regime of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in just three weeks, many people fear that Iran could be the next "axis of evil" member to come under attack.

The United States, which included Iran in countries of "axis of evil" trying to make nuclear weapons along with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the ousted Saddam regime in Iraq, has sought to get the IAEA to declare Iran in "non-compliance" with the NPT and bring the issue before the UN Security Council, which would have left Iran open to possible sanctions.

The Islamic republic finally bowed to pressure after the IAEA threatened to refer its concerns to the UN Security Council.

The abrupt attitude turnabout came in October during an unprecedented visit by foreign ministers of EU powers of Britain, France and Germany.

Iran agreed to sign the additional protocol, temporarily suspend uranium enrichment and provide full details of nuclear activities dating back to the 1980s.

To fulfill its promise, Tehran handed over documentation concerning its past and present nuclear activities to IAEA on Oct. 24 and has suspended uranium enrichment since Nov. 9.

In a unanimously adopted resolution on Nov. 26, the 35-nation board of directors of the IAEA agreed to condemn Iran for 18 years of covert nuclear activities, but decided not to take the issue to the UN security Council for possible sanctions.

The resolution was a compromise between the US call to censure Iran and demands from Britain, France and Germany that Iran be rewarded for cooperating since October with the UN agency.

Tehran hailed the resolution as a victory for Iran and "obvious failure" for America and its key ally Israel, whose hawkish Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was reportedly lobbying other countries to act to stop Iran's nuclear activities.

But there are predicted to be many bones of contention in the future confrontations over Iran's nuclear program.

Although IAEA chief Mohamed AlBaradei has assured Tehran that signing the NPT protocol and accepting strict inspections would not harm Iran's national security, religious values and state dignity, the two sides will probably have different understanding and explanations over this point.

For instance, IAEA experts may want to inspect some sites that Tehran regards as its top national security and state dignity.

Meanwhile, Uranium enrichment is expected to raise more international concern about Iran's capability of building nuclear weapons.

The Islamic republic still refuses to indefinitely suspend its uranium enrichment activities, saying it reserves the right to restart enrichment "at any moment."

In another development, influential former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on Friday called on the Western powers to help his country develop its civilian atomic energy in exchange for signing the protocol and for steps it has taken in recent months to shed light on its nuclear program.

Even though the inspection process may take a long time and some disputes may arise, observers here said the international community has taken a correct path to solve Iran's nuclear issue through peaceful and diplomatic means.

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Iran's additional nuclear protocol widely welcomed

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