Iran Agrees to Stricter Nuclear Inspections

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran agreed Tuesday to sign and ratify an agreement on tougher inspections of its nuclear sites and suspend uranium enrichment and processing in a bid to ease international fears that it is building atomic weapons.

A declaration on the agreement was issued after meetings between Iranian officials and the British, French and German foreign ministers, who urged Iran to comply with an Oct. 31 UN deadline to dispel doubts about its nuclear ambitions.

A senior Iranian official said the decision to freeze the uranium enrichment program was a temporary measure aimed at fostering trust in its peaceful intentions. French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin called it a "promising start."

"Having received the necessary clarifications, the Iranian government has decided to sign the International Atomic Energy Agency Additional Protocol and commence ratification procedures," said the joint declaration issued after the talks. "While Iran has a right within the nuclear nonproliferation regime to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes it has decided voluntarily to suspend all uranium enrichment and processing activities as defined by the IAEA," it added.

The declaration made no mention of any date for the undertakings by Iran, but an Iranian official said Tehran would probably sign the protocol on nuclear checks by the next IAEA board meeting on Nov. 20.

"I don't think we will sign it [the protocol] before Oct. 31 but probably before Nov. 20," Supreme National Security Council chief Hassan Rohani said.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei has warned that Iran's case may go to the UN Security Council if he cannot verify in his November report that Iran has no intention of building nuclear arms.

Regarding uranium enrichment, Rohani said: "We voluntarily chose to do it, which means it could last for one day or one year, it depends on us. As long as Iran thinks that this suspension is beneficial for us it will continue and whenever we don't want it we will end it."

De Villepin told a news conference, "We have achieved this morning important progress and we found a basis for agreement on the three pending issues."

The issues were immediate signature and early implementation of additional protocol, full cooperation with the IAEA and suspension of all uranium enrichment.

Iran's representative to the IAEA said Tuesday that Tehran would shortly sign an agreement with Russia to return spent nuclear fuel that could be used to make atomic warheads.

Russia and Iran have been locked in months of negotiations over the return of the waste fuel that would be produced by a nuclear power station Moscow is helping build in southern Iran. The issue of spent fuel is important as arms-grade plutonium, a main ingredient in a nuclear device, can be extracted from reprocessed spent fuel.

"Iran will soon sign an agreement with Russia to return spent nuclear fuel and this agreement is in process," Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's representative to the IAEA, was quoted as saying by the IRNA news agency.