The head of the United Nations atomic watchdog arrived in Tehran on Saturday to pave the way for a visit by UN inspectors to Iran’s new uranium enrichment plant at the holy city of Qom, local media said.
Mohamed ElBaradei’s visit comes after Washington and its allies demanded rapid progress in revived talks on Iran’s controversial nuclear programme.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief is expected to meet Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation, and other officials on Sunday, news agencies said.
The main purpose of his visit is to discuss with Iranian officials “how UN inspectors can visit the Qom plant, other nuclear facilities and to discuss more cooperation,” the ILNA news agency said.
Fars news agency quoted Ali Shirzadian, spokesman for Iran’s atomic body, as saying that ElBaradei will also discuss how fuel can be provided for Tehran’s research reactor.
Shirzadian stressed said that ElBaradei’s visit was planned prior to talks in Geneva last Thursday between six world powers and Tehran and has “no connection” with the high-profile negotiations.
Iran’s English-language Press TV said ElBaradei would himself not visit the Qom facility during his trip.
The disclosure prior to the Geneva talks by Iran that it is building a nuclear enrichment plant inside a mountain at Qom had triggered worldwide outrage.
ElBaradei would leave the country late on Sunday or early Monday, an Iranian official familiar with his visit told AFP.
His visit comes amid mounting international pressure against Iran over its uranium enrichment programme, including a demand by US President Barack Obama after Thursday’s talks in Geneva for swift and “constructive” action by Tehran.
Obama warned that his patience for dialogue was limited.
But he conceded that the Geneva meeting, which included the highest-level direct talks between the United States and Iran in three decades, marked a “constructive” start to defusing the nuclear stand-off.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Saturday defended Tehran’s nuclear programme, including the building of the Qom plant.
“Iran’s actions are based on honesty. We did not have any secret (nuclear) work because we gave information (about the new plant) ahead of time” to the IAEA, Ahmadinejad said at a ceremony in Tehran.
Western powers suspect Tehran is making an atomic bomb under the guise of its civilian nuclear work, a charge Iran denies.
The Geneva talks were the first of their kind for 15 months, and Western officials acknowledged they marked Iran’s “engagement” on its nuclear programme which they said Iran had refused to discuss since July 2008.
Senior US officials said part of the outcome might temper more immediate fears, especially in the Middle East, that Iran had accumulated enough enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon.
After the talks, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Iran had agreed to cooperate “fully and immediately” over its second uranium enrichment facility near Qom.
The six world powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — now expect IAEA inspections of the plant to be allowed within two weeks, he added.
Iran also tentatively agreed at the Geneva talks to ship some of its stocks of low enriched uranium abroad for reprocessing into fuel for an internationally supervised research reactor in Tehran.
“If Iran agrees to send most of its stockpile of LEU (low enriched uranium) to Russia to be further enriched to provide this fuel, it will reduce that source of anxiety,” a US official who declined to be named told journalists.
However, the agreement is only “in principle” and the technical details need to be worked out at an IAEA meeting in Vienna on October 18.