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US Conditionally Welcomes Expected Iranian Nuclear Agreement - 2003-12-17

The United States has given a qualified welcome to Iran's expected signing Thursday of a protocol for tighter international scrutiny of its nuclear sites. The State Department says the signing "is only one step" toward easing international concerns that it may be developing nuclear weapons.

The United States has long maintained that Iran's nominally peaceful nuclear program is providing cover for a secret weapons project.

While welcoming Tehran's intention to sign the additional International Atomic Energy Agency protocol, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters that step in itself will not be enough to assuage U.S. and other international concerns about its nuclear program:

"We'd certainly welcome Iran's signing of the additional protocol," he said. "But the signature is only one step towards resolving the remaining open questions about Iran's nuclear program and towards increasing international confidence that Iran's nuclear program will be limited to peaceful activities, and that they will suspend, truly suspend, all uranium enrichment-related reprocessing activities."

The additional protocol to be signed by Iran at the IAEA's Vienna headquarters would allow inspectors from the U.N. agency to make surprise inspections of the country's nuclear facilities.

Though a signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran had long resisted accepting the additional safeguards.

Amid mounting international pressure, the Tehran government told the visiting foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany in October that it would suspend uranium enrichment and allow more aggressive inspections of its nuclear facilities.

Its acceptance of the additional protocol avoided an IAEA referral of the issue to the U.N. Security Council, though the IAEA governing board last month deplored Iran's past "failures and breeches" in disclosing its nuclear activities.