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IAEA to Visit Iranian Nuclear Sites - 2002-12-13

The International Atomic Energy Agency says it is aware of new Iranian nuclear facilities that U.S. officials say could be used to develop nuclear weapons, and already has plans to visit the sites. Iran has informed the Agency it is building the new facilities to develop more nuclear power.

The Director General of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, will visit Iran early next year with a team of technical experts to determine the precise nature of the new nuclear facilities. Officials say this is not an inspection, such as the ones in Iraq. But the visit could determine whether such detailed inspections are warranted.

On Thursday, U.S. officials expressed concern that the two factories could be used to produce weapons-grade nuclear fuel.

The chief spokesperson for the IAEA, Melissa Fleming, says Iran informed the Agency in September that it had plans to build nuclear power plants and related fuel facilities over the next 20 years. "They declared to us in September that they have big plans for a powerful program of 6,000 megawatts which is quite big, and not only that but that they have the capability to enrich fuel and make the fuel indigenously," she said.

Iran told the IAEA that it has a program to develop what is called a nuclear fuel cycle. A government spokesman in Tehran stressed Friday that Iran has no hidden atomic facilities and that all its nuclear activities are non-military. Iran has raised no objections to the preliminary visit by the IAEA team.

Earlier this month, North Korea rejected requests from the IAEA for inspections and high-level talks on its nuclear activities. President Bush has described Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an axis of evil.