IAEA Arrives in Iran for Inspections

VIENNA -- Inspectors from the UN nuclear watchdog agency were in Iran on Sunday to evaluate what controls remained on nuclear sites and equipment after Tehran reduced the agency's monitoring power to a minimum, diplomats said.

The diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the issue, said that the agency still has some seals and equipment at Natanz and Isfahan, where Iran is converting raw uranium into gas for enrichment. The seals and cameras were allowed under basic agreements linked the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which Iran has signed.

Still, with those agreements only meant to monitor Iran's declared and existing nuclear stocks, they are considered inadequate in the agency's efforts to determine whether the country has tried to develop nuclear weapons at undeclared facilities.

Much of the surveillance equipment and seals from Iran's enrichment facilities at Natanz have been removed by the Iranians in the month since they announced they would resume limited activities there. The nuclear agency referred Iran to the UN Security Council on Feb. 4 in response to Tehran's decision to resume uranium conversion.

Without the seals and surveillance equipment -- and with Iran's recent decision to end the agency's rights to in-depth nuclear inspections at short notice -- the IAEA has few means to monitor Tehran's enrichment efforts, which can create either nuclear fuel or the fissile core of warheads.

The IAEA visits come amid suggestions from Iran's president that his country might even pull out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, or NPT, which North Korea left three years ago, shortly before it went public with its nuclear weapons program.

A diplomat on Saturday had told the AP that some seals and cameras had been removed within the last few days, suggesting that happened without IAEA supervision. But on Sunday, others disputed that, saying Iran would not act before the arrival of the inspectors.

Tehran had asked the removal of all surveillance and monitoring equipment that went beyond its basic obligations as a signatory of the NPT a week ago. It has also crippled the agency's efforts to look for secret sites and experiments that could be linked to nuclear arms.

Iranian officials have previously said they will continue honoring the NPT. But commitment to the NPT was thrown into doubt Saturday, after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested his country might walk away from it.

"Until now, we have worked inside the agency [IAEA] and the NPT regulations," he told tens of thousands of Iranians massed in Azadi Square in the Iranian capital to mark the 27th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, which brought a Muslim theocracy to power.

"If we see you want to violate the right of the Iranian people by using those regulations, you should know that the Iranian people will revise its policies. You should do nothing that will lead to such a revision in our policy," said Ahmadinejad.

He did not specify what changes Tehran envisioned, but it was believed to be a threat to withdraw from the NPT and the IAEA.