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US Welcomes Iran's Agreement on Nuclear Inspections - 2003-12-18

The United States has welcomed Iran's signing of an International Atomic Energy Agency protocol for tighter nuclear inspections. But the State Department says much more remains to be done to assuage U.S. and other international concerns about the Iranian nuclear program.

The United States has been skeptical about Iran's recent commitments to international cooperation on its nuclear program and had wanted the IAEA governing board last month to refer the issue to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.

At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the signing by Iran of the protocol allowing for snap inspections of its nuclear sites is welcome. However, he cautioned that the protocol must still be ratified by the Tehran government, and backed up by actual tighter scrutiny by the U.N. agency.

"What's important to remember is that it is only a first step. Iran needs to bring this into force, needs to ratify the additional protocol that it has now signed. And above all it needs to implement the programs they've has agreed to," he said. "For the part of the IAEA, they need to insure that there is rigorous verification of the protocol's implementation because Iran does have a history of deception in this area."

The United States has long believed that Iran's nominally peaceful nuclear program is being used to conceal a covert nuclear weapons project.

Though denying nuclear weapons ambitions, Iran had resisted closer IAEA monitoring.

But it reversed course under diplomatic pressure in October, telling the visiting foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany that it would accept the snap inspections and suspend uranium enrichment.

At its Vienna meeting last month, the IAEA board condemned Iran for what it said was 18 years of deception on its nuclear activities but said there was no evidence of a bomb project.

Spokesman Boucher called on Iran to provide "cooperation and transparency" to the continuing IAEA investigation of its nuclear activities. He said for the international community to have full confidence in Iran's nuclear program, the Tehran government needs to "abandon" uranium enrichment and reprocessing.