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IAEA Chief Set to Visit Iran - 2003-07-08

The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog organization is expected to press Tehran to do more in opening up the country's nuclear program for inspection. The chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, is scheduled to meet with Iran's president, Mohammed Khatami, and the country's energy experts on a visit expected to last only about 24 hours.

After that, Mr. ElBaradei will return to Vienna with the agency's spokesman, Mark Gwozdecky. Two other IAEA officials will remain in Iran for what Mr. Gwozdecky called high-level technical discussions.

Mr. Gwozdecky told VOA, just before his departure, that there are some questions that need explanation regarding Iran's nuclear activities.

"Things like doing experiments and creating uranium metal, for example, how does that fit in, and how does a heavy water plant at Arak fit in?," he explained. "And the second big priority is getting them to commit to and follow through on signing the additional protocol that gives us the additional authority that we need, and our inspectors need, to do their work, and which in turn generates greater confidence in the international community that their program is peaceful."

The additional protocol that Mr. ElBaradei wants Tehran to sign immediately would allow the IAEA to do environmental sampling at a non-nuclear site where uranium enrichment activities could have been carried out.

In effect, the additional protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty would grant the nuclear agency's inspection teams to make surprise visits to suspect facilities in Iran. Iran insists that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful, and it wants access to western nuclear technology before allowing stricter IAEA inspections.

The United States believes Iran has violated its international obligations by not declaring nuclear material. Washington could press for tougher measures against Tehran if Mr. ElBaradei's visit fails to achieve its goals.