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Iran invites inspectors to nuclear site

LONDON — Five days after Iran struck a landmark accord with world powers on its nuclear program, the International Atomic Energy Agency announced today that Tehran had invited its inspectors to visit a heavy water production plant linked to the deal — the first tangible step since the agreement was concluded.

In a speech in Vienna, the director general of the agency, Yukiya Amano, said the invitation was for inspectors to travel to the plant in Arak, in central Iran, on Dec. 8. Amano told reporters that it was “for sure” that inspectors would accept the offer.

The invitation was limited to the heavy water production facility on the same site as a reactor under construction to which international inspectors have had some access, Amano said. The facility producing heavy water, used in some types of reactors to control nuclear activity, has been off limits to inspectors for more than two years.

Part of the deal in Geneva specifically provided for Iran not to produce fuel for the Arak plant, install additional reactor components there or put the plant into operation. If it became fully operational, the reactor would produce plutonium that could be used in a nuclear weapon.

In return for that and other curbs on Tehran’s nuclear program, the powers promised a limited easing of the international economic sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy.

The speed with which Tehran offered access to Arak was taken by some analysts as a sign that Iran’s leaders wanted to press ahead with the deal, which is intended as an interim accord lasting six months during which negotiators are to discuss a comprehensive settlement.

The dispute hinges on the purpose of Iran’s nuclear program, which Western leaders say is designed to acquire the technology for atomic weapons. Iran says the program is for peaceful purposes.

Amano also told the agency’s board today that Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top foreign policy official, who played a central part in the Geneva negotiations, had said in a letter that the IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, “will have an important role in the verification of the nuclear-related measures” agreed to in Geneva. He suggested that the agency might need more money and experts to fulfill that role.

“We are now looking at the way in which the elements of the agreement relevant to the agency could be put into practice,” he said. “This will include the implications for funding and staffing. This analysis will take some time.” Diplomats said the review could take until January.

Amano, who visited Tehran on Nov. 11, said he had agreed with high-ranking officials there that Iran would permit “managed access” to at least two contentious sites — the Gachin mine in Bandar Abbas and the Arak plant, which Iranian officials say is designed to produce medical isotopes.

The term “managed access” usually denotes arrangements allowing host countries to protect information that they consider proprietary or secret, while permitting inspectors to collect the data they require, officials said.

The promise of inspections did not extend to the Parchin military site southwest of Tehran, where IAEA inspectors suspect that Iran at one time tested triggering devices for nuclear weapons.

The organization has also questioned whether the Gachin mine, which produces yellowcake uranium for conversion to nuclear fuel, is linked to Iran’s military. Amano’s announcement today did not specifically mention access to the mine. But, he said, “all other outstanding issues” relating to the IAEA’s differences with Iran would be addressed “in subsequent steps.”

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