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Iran peels back nuclear secrecy

It signed on to snap inspections yesterday in wake of global pressure.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 19, 2003



TEHRAN, IRAN

Capping months of growing pressure on Iran about secret nuclear programs, the ink dried yesterday on Tehran's agreement to permit intrusive, snap inspections of nuclear facilities.

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Analysts said the decision to sign the Additional Protocol of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in Vienna was the most "momentous" made by the Islamic Republic since agreeing to a 1988 cease-fire to end the Iran-Iraq War.

Not since then has Iran's regime faced such overwhelming pressure - this time unified and from abroad - and been forced to come together to end a crisis with an unpalatable decision.

"If America wanted to do anything hostile to us in the future, they can't say it is because of nuclear weapons," says Hussein Shariatmadari, editor of the conservative Kayhan newspaper. "The international consensus against Iran and the illusions [of Iran's nuclear plans] are now broken."

Iran's decision is the climax of a volatile debate between power centers inside Iran, prompted by revelations about Iran's nuclear programs in the past year.

Still, the West should "take this opening and look at the Iranian quest for nuclear weapons in a broader context" of a tough region, says Daryl Kimball, execu- tive director of the Arms Control Association. The US should "broadly examine a strategy that leads to an [improvement] between the US and Iran."

Indeed, adding its name to the protocol - which the US and most Western European countries have yet to sign on to - may be one part of a broader Iranian attempt to ease US-Iran tensions, says Abbas Maleki, the head of the International Institute for Caspian Studies in Tehran.

"If Washington is searching for some signals from Iran, these are signals," says Mr. Maleki, a former foreign minister. On points most often raised by the US - Iran's human rights record, ties to terrorism, regional meddling, and nuclear weapons - Tehran improved "on all of these in the last months, very delicately," he says.

Iran's acquiescence to inspections may not change America's dim view of the country's activities. In fact, top Iranian officials say the suspension of uranium enrichment is "temporary."

"This is a very important step forward," says Mr. Kimball. "But it's not the end of the road that is going to take Iran away from nuclear weapons."

Though Iran's nuclear saga is far from over, the signing was heralded by some as a necessary step, on that permits snap inspections with two hours notice.

President Mohammad Khatami said last week that "our religious faith should not allow us to seek nuclear weapons." But the final decision was based more on realpolitik, though many argue here that Iran's strategic situation - with nuclear Israel, Pakistan, India, and Russia nearby, and US troops deployed along borders with Iraq, Afghanistan, and in the Persian Gulf - demands a nuclear deterrent.

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