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Iran to Invite UN Nuclear Watchdog Chief for Talks - 2003-06-30

Iran says it intends to invite U.N. nuclear watchdog chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, to Tehran amid ongoing U.S. and British concerns over its nuclear program.

Iran's official news agency said the secretary general of its supreme national security council, Hassan Rohani, told visiting British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw that Mr. ElBaradei would be invited soon to "hold talks to remove technical problems."

Mr. Straw, in Iran for his fourth visit in 19 months, asked officials there to allow unfettered inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. body that Mr. ElBaradei heads, or risk damaging international confidence in Iran and Tehran's trade with the European Union.

According to Iranian state television, President Mohammad Khatami told Mr. Straw that Tehran is willing to cooperate with the IAEA, but that in return it wanted access to western technology to develop its nuclear-energy program.

Mr. Straw urged Iran to unconditionally sign an additional protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that would allow the IAEA to conduct surprise inspections of nuclear facilities.

The IAEA this month criticized what it said was Iran's failure to declare parts of its nuclear program. But the agency stopped short of U.S. demands that Tehran be declared in violation of its treaty commitments, which could have led to U.N. sanctions.

The United States has accused Iran of using its atomic-energy program as a cover for secretly developing nuclear weapons.

But Iranian officials reiterated to Mr. Straw that their nuclear program is peaceful, aimed at providing electrical power.

Some Iranians have denounced Mr. Straw's visit, days after student-led protests in Iran, for which both British Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George Bush expressed support.

A crackdown by Iran's clerical establishment led to a fizzling out of those protests by June 20, resulting in the arrest of 4,000 people in Tehran and other cities.