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In a move that could herald greater cooperation between Iran and the West, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government has agreed to grant United Nations inspectors greater access to its uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz and the nearly completed heavy-water reactor outside Arak.
The new agreement comes only days before the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will release a report on the country's nuclear program that is expected to be highly critical.
Under the new agreement, The Guardian reports that Iranians will change their work patterns to make it easier for IAEA cameras already in place at the Natanz enrichment facility to monitor their work. Inspectors will ensure that Iranians are using centrifuges to produce only low-enriched uranium used for power generation, as opposed to highly-enriched uranium used for nuclear weapons. Iran also allowed inspectors into the heavy-water reactor for the first time in a year.
Iran's increased openness to nuclear inspectors comes in the face of US President Barack Obama's September deadline for international talks about the future of Iran's nuclear program. If Iran does not comply, President Obama has threatened new economic sanctions, reports The Wall Street Journal. Especially in the wake of violent postelection protests, Iran may be taking a more "conciliatory stance" toward the global community as the deadline approaches.
"It's definitely a move by Iran to show cooperation, and so to keep the engagement ball in the air," said Michael Adler, an expert on Iran's nuclear program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "But these are routine safeguards measures, to which Iran is obligated, and not a major concession."
Mr. Adler added: "And of course Iran is continuing to enrich uranium in defiance of U.N. calls for it to suspend this nuclear work, which could be used to make the bomb."
Iran's Press TV reports that Iranian government leaders have yet to comment on the new agreement with IAEA officials. While Western governments have long harbored concerns that Iran is using its nuclear program to develop weapons, the state-funded media outlet reports that, "Iranians see nuclear development as a sign of national independence, similar to the oil industry, nationalized in 1951, in spite of fierce Western opposition."
Additionally, head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, has responded to fears about Iran developing nuclear weapons by calling these concerns "groundless," reports The Daily Telegraph. There is however, some internal debate within the IAEA about whether to make the results of their forthcoming report about Iran public.
It also remains to be determined how much headway the US and other Western powers can make with Iran's nuclear program following the June protests over election results, reports The New York Times.
"Ahmadinejad will have great difficulty governing," said Muhammad Sahimi, an Iranian expatriate and professor at chemical engineering at the University of Southern California who remains in close contact with a network of friends and relatives around Iran. "He is being opposed on all sides. Khamenei's authority has been greatly damaged. Cracks in the conservative camp have become too glaring, and every day there are new revelations."