Iran to give U.N. inspectors more access to nuclear sites

Reuters

* Iran to grant access to uranium mine, heavy water plant

* Agreement comes as powers seek diplomatic breakthrough

* Makes no direct mention of probe into suspected bombresearch

* Welcome first step but implementation key - experts (Adds IAEA to visit Arak soon, December talks, paragraph 17)

By Fredrik Dahl and Marcus George

VIENNA/DUBAI, Nov 11 (Reuters) - Iran will grant U.N.inspectors "managed access" to a uranium mine and a heavy-waterplant within three months as part of a cooperation pact reachedon Monday that aims to allay concern about Tehran's nuclearprogramme.

It was signed by U.N. nuclear agency chief Yukiya Amano inTehran after Iran and six world powers came close to apreliminary nuclear agreement during broader talks in Geneva atthe weekend and decided to meet again on Nov. 20.

The sets of negotiations are separate but both centre onfears that Iran may be seeking the capability to build nuclearweapons, a charge it denies. The Iran-IAEA deal may encourage hopes for next week's resumption of big power diplomacy after adecade of international deadlock on the issue.

"This is an important step forward to start with, but muchmore needs to be done," Amano said in the Iranian capital.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran will"strengthen their cooperation and dialogue aimed at ensuring theexclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme," ajoint statement said.

"It was agreed that Iran and the IAEA will cooperate furtherwith respect to verification activities to be undertaken by theIAEA to resolve all present and past issues."

That seemed in part to be a reference to a stalled IAEAinvestigation into suspected atomic bomb research by Iran, butit gave no detail on when and how that probe may resume.

Amano suggested such issues would be addressed in"subsequent steps" under the IAEA-Iran framework accord.

Britain - which is negotiating with Tehran along with theUnited States, France, Germany, China and Russia - welcomed theagreement. It was "important that Iran addresses the substanceof the agency's concerns about possible military dimensions" tothe nuclear programme, it said.

Iran expert Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group thinktank said: "This goodwill gesture is likely to put Iran in abetter position when its negotiators meet again with their (sixpower) counterparts next week in Geneva."

Middle East specialist Shashank Joshi at the Royal UnitedServices Institute in London said much would depend onimplementation: "We have had numerous false starts before."

The Vienna-based IAEA, which regularly inspects Iraniannuclear sites, has long requested more information and wideraccess to fulfil its mandate to supervise Iran's nuclearprogramme to ensure there are no military links.

Iran had until now ignored several requests. But theelection of a relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, as Iranianpresident in June has fuelled hopes that Iran's nuclear disputewith the West can be resolved peacefully.

NO MENTION OF PARCHIN ACCESS

An annex to the IAEA agreement listed six steps to be takenby Feb. 11, including access to the Gchine uranium mine and aheavy-water production plant near the town of Arak.

Under the accord on boosting nuclear transparency, Iranwould also provide information about planned new researchreactors and sites for future nuclear power plants, as well asclarify earlier statements about additional uranium enrichmentfacilities it has said it plans to build.

Amano said the agreed steps were "substantive" measures.

After a follow-up meeting between senior IAEA and Iranianexperts in Tehran, they said in a statement that the U.N. agencywould visit the Arak facility "in the near future" and that anew meeting would be held on Dec. 11 in Vienna.

The IAEA last visited the plant - which produces heavy waterfor a nearby research reactor under construction - more than twoyears ago and now monitors it via satellite images.

The Arak reactor is of deep concern for the West as it mayyield plutonium, a potential bomb fuel, once it starts up. Iransays it will make isotopes for medical and agricultural use.

The Gchine mine is located near the Gulf port of BandarAbbas and its annual output is estimated at around 21 tonnes ofuranium. When refined, this can be used to fuel power plants butalso to build nuclear weapons if enriched much further.

Nuclear expert Mark Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowmentthink-tank described Monday's agreement in principle aspositive.

"The details will have to be negotiated for specificfacilities and cases, and success may ultimately depend on theatmospherics of Iran's relationship with the powers," he said.

Iran says its nuclear programme is a peaceful bid togenerate electricity. But its refusal to halt sensitive work hasdrawn tough sanctions targeting its lifeblood oil exports.

The statement with the IAEA represents "a road map thatspecifies bilateral steps in relation to resolving outstandingissues," the head of Iran's atomic energy organisation, AliAkbar Salehi, said at the news conference in Tehran with Amano.

The agreement, however, made no explicit mention of theIAEA's investigation into what it calls possible militarydimensions to Iran's nuclear programme, including long-soughtaccess to the Parchin military base where the agency suspectsnuclear-related explosives tests took place a decade ago. (Editing by Giles Elgood and Peter Graff)

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