AFP: The deputy head of the UN atomic watchdog visits Iran on Wednesday as the West turns up the pressure on Tehran to suspend its nuclear drive or face more sanctions. TEHRAN, July 9, 2007 (AFP) – The deputy head of the UN atomic watchdog visits Iran on Wednesday as the West turns up the pressure on Tehran to suspend its nuclear drive or face more sanctions.
Olli Heinonen, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) deputy director general for safeguards, will seek to shape a plan to resolve “outstanding issues” over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Heinonen is making a two-day visit at the invitation of Iran’s national security chief and top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, who met EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana last month over the standoff.
Britain and the United States have again warned the Islamic republic about its nuclear programme, which the West fears could be a cover for plans to build the bomb.
Britain said it will press for a third UN resolution to tighten sanctions on Iran if it continues to defy calls to suspend uranium enrichment, while US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has refused to rule out military action.
Ahead of Heinonen’s visit, IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei has said “drawing up a plan of action” should take 60 days.
Implementation would then begin on resolving questions about Iranian nuclear activities that could have military applications.
IAEA wants clarification over the origin of highly enriched uranium traced on some equipment, the status of a more advanced centrifuge machine called P2 used for enrichment and documentation concerning uranium metal and its casting into hemispheres.
Uranium enriched to low levels makes nuclear fuel but in highly concentrated forms it can also be the core of an atom bomb.
Iran’s refusal to address IAEA questions and its resumption of enrichment activities, which it had suspended for more than two years, prompted the world body to refer Iran to the UN Security Council in February 2006.
The council has adopted three resolutions demanding that Iran address IAEA concerns and suspend enrichment and imposed two sets of sanctions against Tehran for its continued refusal to suspend the controversial process.
Iran has so far rejected any halt in its uranium enrichment programme, which it says is solely aimed at civilian purposes and making fuel for its growing energy needs in line with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Iran says it has made “concessions” by answering to IAEA questions in expectation that the United Nations will hold off on any new sanctions while it pursues talks with the UN nuclear body.
“This is definitely the expectation because otherwise… this positive, constructive environment will be in jeopardy and this whole peace might collapse,” Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said on Friday.
But for Western powers the real concern is suspending enrichment, which Iran has expanded in the past months.
As of mid-May, it was operating 1,300 centrifuges at an underground facility in Natanz, where it could install up to 3,000 by the end of July, a top diplomat close to the IAEA said.
Under ideal conditions they could produce enough highly enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon within a year at most.
The US State Department said Washington was discussing “elements of a potential resolution” with other permanent Security Council members — Britain, China, France, and Russia.
But China and Russia could oppose a third set of sanctions, both seeing a positive sign in Iran’s planned talks with the IAEA.
Meanwhile, Washington is intent on increasing economic pressure by trying to convince European and Japanese states and private companies to further limit their dealings with Iran.
US Under Secretary of the Treasury Stuart Levey is visiting major European capitals this week for this aim, American newspapers said.