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Iran May Sign Nuclear Protocol, says IAEA Director - 2003-10-16

During a visit to Tehran Thursday, the head of the United Nations nuclear monitoring agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, said Iran has expressed some willingness to sign a key protocol to the Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty. But he says Iranian leaders still have concerns about the move.

The chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency told reporters in Tehran that Iran has promised to respond to concerns about its nuclear program. But he did not say whether that would happen by the October 31 deadline his agency has set.

Mr. ElBaradei said the head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Hassan Rohani, told him Iran is interested in signing the additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty, which allows extensive international inspections of nuclear sites. Mr. ElBaradei added, however, Iran still has concerns about how the protocol would work.

Iran is a signatory of the non-proliferation treaty, but hardliners in the country have said in the past that signing the additional protocol would be like sanctioning spying. Some government officials worry the additional protocol could mean IAEA inspectors would have unfettered access to military sites.

Mr. ElBaradei has said that while signing the additional protocol would be a positive step by Iran, the IAEA's priority is making sure the country has given it the full details on the development of its nuclear program. The agency is especially interested in Iran's uranium enrichment facilities, which the country says it needs to produce low-grade enriched uranium to use as fuel in nuclear power reactors.

The IAEA has given Iran until then end of October to respond to what it says are vital questions concerning the country's nuclear program, which the United States says is designed to develop nuclear weapons. It was such concerns, shared by other countries, that led the United Nations' nuclear monitoring body to impose the deadline last month. The agency could refer the problem to the U.N. security council, if Iran doesn't meet the deadline.

Iran says its nuclear program is for civilian, peaceful purposes, like providing energy.

Mr. ElBaradei's short visit to Tehran is scheduled to end on Friday.