IAEA visit: It's showtime for Iran's nuclear denials
The IAEA team's three-day visit marks the first opportunity for Tehran to rebut allegations of a covert Iranian nuclear weapons program that were made public in November.
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The high-profile visit from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) presents Iran with the first formal opportunity to rebut specific allegations of past weapons-related work since they were made public in an agency report in November.
The Islamic Republic has for years dismissed the documents those allegations are based upon as forgeries created by hostile intelligence agencies, aimed at besmirching a peaceful energy program. But now that talk of a US-Israeli war against Iran has gained momentum, in concert with an array of crippling sanctions, Iran says it will address those allegations.
"We are very optimistic about the outcome of the IAEA delegation's visit to Iran.... Their questions will be answered during this visit," Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said yesterday.
"We have nothing to hide and Iran has no clandestine [nuclear] activities," he said. "Of course I do not mean that a miracle will happen overnight, but you know a long journey starts with the first step."
Officials sought to reinforce that positive message today, by stating that the IAEA mission was there at Tehran's invitation, and was “in fact a proof of Iran’s good intention,” said senior lawmaker Parviz Sorouri, according to Fars News.
The stakes are high for the inspectors' visit. The next IAEA report is due within weeks, and in the past month the US and European Union have both imposed unprecedented sanctions on Iran that target its central bank and the lifeblood of its economy, its oil exports, in a bid to curb Iran's nuclear work.
Protesters turn out for IAEA arrival at Tehran airport
The head of the IAEA team in Iran says their aim is to "resolve all the outstanding issues with Iran." Those include weapons-related studies – their "systematic" nature apparently halted in late 2003, according to the IAEA – which range from high-explosives testing to reengineering the warhead of a Shahab-3 missile to fit a specific, possibly nuclear, payload.
"In particular we hope that Iran will engage with us on our concerns regarding the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program," the IAEA deputy director for safeguards, Herman Nackaerts, said before leaving Vienna on Sunday.
A group of Iranians – of a type often associated with pro-regime basiji ideologues, a few covering their faces and carrying placards in English which read "Nuclear energy is our right" – turned out at the Imam Khomeini airport for the IAEA team's arrival Sunday.
They held portraits of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan, the latest of at least four nuclear scientists assassinated in Iran over two years. Senior figures in the regime accuse Israel's Mossad of the killings, and the IAEA of divulging information about its nuclear specialists that resulted in their deaths.
Ali Larijani, the speaker of parliament, on Sunday told the IAEA to conduct its work in a "logical ... technical" manner.
"This visit is a test for the IAEA. The route for further cooperation will be open if the team carries out its duties professionally," said Mr. Larijani. "Otherwise, if the IAEA turns into a tool [to pressure Iran], then Iran will have no choice but to consider a new framework in its ties with the agency."
Formal nuclear talks between Iran and world powers broke down a year ago in Istanbul. Both sides now say they want them to resume them, but no date or even agenda has been established.