CAIRO, Egypt – Iran’s decision to grant international inspectors greater access to a major nuclear facility was greeted by skepticism as well as cautious hope Friday among nonproliferation experts.
Under the terms of an agreement announced Friday, the United Nation’s international atomic watchdog will be granted access again to the heavy water reactor at Arak by the end of the month. International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, inspectors earlier this year were barred from the remote facility in the mountains of western Iran after enjoying previous access.
Tehran, the Iranian capital, is at loggerheads with the U.S. and the U.N. over Iran’s nuclear program. Iranian officials insist their country is developing nuclear technology to meet its growing domestic energy needs and to achieve other peaceful purposes. But governments in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East fear Iran covertly is building infrastructure for the future production of atomic weapons and have punished Iran with sanctions.
Heavy water reactors like the one in Arak produce isotopes used in medicine and for other peaceful purposes. But they also produce plutonium, which can be used for the core of nuclear warheads.
The atomic agency also announced Friday that Iran had agreed on unspecified inspection “safeguards” for the nuclear fuel enrichment plant near the Iranian city of Natanz and a new roster of inspectors to enter the country.
The accord doesn’t address Tehran’s continued enrichment of uranium at Natanz, the main issue of contention between Iran and the international community and the reason the U.N. Security Council has imposed economic sanctions on the regime. But a diplomat close to the inspection agency said the agreement might show a new willingness by the Iranians to be more transparent.
“It is not insignificant as long as the promises are kept,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized discuss the matter with the media.
Other officials complained that the latest deal not only doesn’t go far enough to allay international concerns about Tehran’s nuclear program but also provides Iran with a convenient bargaining chip in trying to ward off further sanctions.
“The worry was that this would be a way for Iran to delay the Security Council from meeting,” said David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington, D.C., think tank.
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