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Iran Invites Britain, France, Germany to Help Settle Nuclear Dispute - 2003-10-19

Iran has invited the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany to Tehran to help settle the dispute over its nuclear program. The invitation coincides with talks in Tehran with the International Atomic Energy Agency on expanding the agency's inspection powers.

Iran says the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany could help settle the dispute over the Islamic Republic's nuclear program. Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hameed Reza Asefi said Iran invited the three European ministers to continue what he said was "constructive dialogue."

He said Iran has been in talks with the three countries, after they sent a letter offering possible technical assistance, in return for Iranian cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA.

An IAEA team has been in Tehran since Saturday to negotiate Iran's signing of an additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, of which Iran is a signatory. The protocol would allow broader, unannounced searches of Iran's nuclear facilities.

Iran's representative to the IAEA, Ali Akbar Salhi, reported that talks with the agency were "positive," and said he was optimistic of their outcome. Reports out of Tehran said the negotiations could last several more days.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, after discussions in Tehran last week, said Iranian officials had shown what he called "a readiness" to sign the protocol, but that the country still had reservations about how the protocol would work.

Diplomatic sources say France, Germany and Britain have been secretly negotiating a deal with Iran's conservative Islamic clerical leaders, under which Iran might be allowed nuclear technology in exchange for signing the additional protocol. Some countries, including the United States, believe Iran's nuclear program is geared toward developing nuclear weapons, which Iran denies.

The IAEA has given Iran until the end of October to prove it is not intent on developing nuclear weapons. An IAEA resolution also calls on Iran to stop enriching uranium, which can be used to produce nuclear weapons.

If Iran does not comply with the October 31 deadline, the IAEA could refer the issue to the U.N. security council which, in turn, could impose sanctions on Tehran.

Iran has said it does not recognize the deadline, but that it wants to provide requested information as quickly as possible, to allay international concerns.

On Friday, Iran's president, Mohamed Khatami, reiterated the government's stance that Iran has no nuclear weapons, and does not desire them.