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Will Iran allow UN nuclear inspection? (+video)

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(Read caption) WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President Obama, in his State of the Union address Tuesday, renewed his vows to focus on nuclear weapons stockpile reductions with Russia, and also urged Iran to seize the moment for nuclear diplomacy.
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United Nations nuclear agency investigators are in Tehran today attempting to restart talks on Iran's disputed nuclear program, which has spurred international penalties in the past. But even as Iran shows signs of curbing the growth of its stockpiles of enriched uranium, some fear its willingness to open up to international inspection remains unchanged.

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters yesterday that Iran might grant the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) a long-requested inspection of the Parchin military complex, which the agency believes may be the site of nuclear weapon development. Iranian resistance to allowing inspectors into Parchin has been a central stumbling block to negotiations in the past.

“Discussion over visiting Parchin could be part of a deal” with the IAEA, Mr. Mehmanparast said, according to the Associated Press. “The prospect of reaching an agreement with the agency is bright, if Iran’s nuclear rights are recognized."

IAEA director general Yukiya Amano said earlier in the week, however, that "the outlook is not bright" for getting access to Parchin, The New York Times reports.

These talks come two weeks ahead of another round of international talks on Iran's nuclear program, the so-called P5 + 1 talks that involve the United States, France, Britain, Russia, China (the five permanent UN Security Council members), and Germany. Those negotiations stalled after three rounds of talks and this time around, Iran insists it is "only going to listen" to offers from the six powers and offer no new proposals of its own, AP reports. 

The IAEA team wants to reach an agreement on how a probe of Iran's contentious nuclear program should be conducted. The IAEA wants it to be open-ended, but Iran wants there to be limitations, according to AP. Herman Nackaerts, the leader of the IAEA Tehran team, said "differences remain," even after more than a year of meetings. 

Iran insists that its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only and it therefore has the right to have such a program. As Fars News Agency notes, Tehran has repeatedly referred to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's fatwa against nuclear weapons as proof that it is not pursuing weapon capabilities. 

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Mehman-Parast also reiterated that a religious edict from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei banning nuclear bombs is binding on Tehran and suggested this should defuse concerns about Iranian nuclear ambitions. 

"There is nothing more important in defining the framework for our nuclear activities than the leader's fatwa," Mehman-Parast said. "This fatwa is our operational instruction." 

Khamenei's fatwa, according to a September 2012 report by the Fars news agency, prohibited the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons and said they contradict "Islamic beliefs and the principles of the Islamic Republic of Iran". 

RECOMMENDED MONITOR SPECIAL REPORT: Iran's Iron Ayatollah: Why Khamenei distrusts the US and what that means for nuclear talks 

However, Iran's resistance to IAEA inspections has made the international community doubt its nuclear intentions. 

Tehran announced today that it was converting some of its enriched uranium into reactor fuel which, if done in large enough quantities, could limit its supposed weapons capabilities and be seen as a measure of good faith, The New York Times reports. 

At a news conference on Tuesday in Tehran, Ramin Mehmanparast, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, was asked to comment on a news report that Iranian scientists had converted some uranium enriched to 20 percent purity into fuel for a research reactor in Tehran. The spokesman said that the “work is being done” and that details had been sent to the I.A.E.A., which is based in Vienna.

Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium is believed by Western negotiators and international inspectors to be of far lower purity than is required to make nuclear weapons. Diplomats in Vienna said on Tuesday that enriched uranium converted into reactor fuel is hard to convert into fuel for weapons.

Some analysts argue that, by slowing the growth of its stockpile, Tehran could delay the moment when it acquires enough 20 percent enriched uranium to set off a response by Israel, which has signaled readiness to attack Iran’s nuclear sites.

Reuters reports that the window of opportunity for negotiations is particularly small as Iran's "stockpile is currently projected to reach a level intolerable to Israel in mid-year" and it is facing a delicate domestic political moment as Iranian presidential elections will take place in June. But conversion is "one way for Iran to slow the growth" of its stockpile.

"Iran averted a potential crisis last year by converting some 100 kilograms of its 20-percent enriched uranium into fuel, suggesting to some that it was carefully keeping below the threshold set by Israel, while still advancing its nuclear technology," Reuters reports.


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