UN atomic chief due in Iran as pressure mounts

The head of the UN atomic watchdog was expected to arrive in Tehran at the weekend after Washington and its allies demanded quick progress from Tehran in revived talks on the nuclear standoff.

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei will meet Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation, an Iranian official said in Geneva on Friday.

The visit will take place at the start of the Iranian week, which begins on Saturday, he added.

US President Barack Obama on Thursday demanded swift and "constructive" action from Iran following the crucial nuclear talks in Geneva on Thursday, and warned that his patience for dialogue was limited.

But Obama conceded the meeting between six world powers and Tehran, which included the highest-level direct talks between the United States and Iran in three decades, marked a "constructive" start to defusing the nuclear standoff.

Director General of the International Atomic Energy (IAEA) Mohamed ElBaradei delivers a speech during the International Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy 2009 in New Delhi

The talks were the first for 15 months, and Western officials in Geneva acknowledged that it marked Iran's "engagement" on its nuclear programme after they said Iran refused to talk about it since July 2008.

France said the talks were a "step in the right direction" but added it would judge results through Iran's actions, while Russia voiced "cautious optimism" so long as the agreements were respected within the set timeframe.

Senior US officials in Geneva said part of the outcome might temper more immediate fears, especially in the Middle East, that Iran had accumulated enough enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon.

Iran insists it has a right to civilian nuclear energy, but the partly covert buildup of its nuclear programme in recent years, especially uranium enrichment, has fulled suspicions in the West and Israel that Tehran is hiding a nuclear weapons programme.

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator who led Tehran's delegation at the Geneva talks reiterated late Friday upon his return that enriching uranium was his country's "legal" right.

"The right of (uranium) enrichment is part of Iran's absolute right. One of the legal rights of Iran is to continue enriching activity for peaceful purpose," Saeed Jalili told reporters at Tehran airport minutes after he arrived from Geneva.

Iranian newspapers on Saturday praised Tehran's delegation and said the Islamic republic held the upper hand during the Geneva talks.

"Iran holds upper hand in Geneva talks," read the front-page headline of the government-run Iran newspaper.

"Iran's solid logic, innovation and resistance were the key elements on which Tehran presented its argument," said the newspaper.

Some Tehran dailies put the emphasis on the direct US-Iran talks which also took place in Geneva.

"Nuclear talks in Geneva held through the channel of Iran-US dialogue," was the front-page headline of a conservative daily, Jomhuri Eslami.

Iran's leading hardline daily, Kayhan, was cautiously optimistic.

Calling Tehran the "role model of resistance", the newspaper's editorial said it would be "hasty to make a judgement on the continuation of the negotiations at this stage."

Iran agreed to cooperate "fully and immediately" on a second enrichment facility near the holy city of Qom, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said after the Geneva talks on Thursday.

But the six powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States -- expected IAEA inspections to be allowed within two weeks, he added.

A senior US administration official said ElBaradei's visit would deal with the issue, following an outcry over Iran's belated disclosure last week of construction of the underground uranium enrichment plant.

Iran also struck a tentative agreement with the six powers to ship some of its stocks of low enriched uranium abroad for reprocessing into fuel for an internationally-supervised research reactor in Tehran.

A senior US official said in Geneva that the move was a key confidence building measure that might remove "most" of the enriched uranium that could potentially be used to make a bomb in the more immediate future.

"If Iran agrees to send most of its stockpile of LEU (low enriched uranium) to Russia to be further enriched to provide this fuel, it will reduce that source of anxiety," the official told journalists, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Experts estimated that in recent months, Iran had exceeded the amount of low energy uranium needed to produce enough higher grade uranium to make a bomb, he explained.

Iran had first approached the IAEA several months to a year ago because its fuel for the reactor would end its lifespan within a year to 18 months, according to US officials.

The arrangement was then hatched through the IAEA after it approached several of the UN Security Council powers.

Under the deal, the uranium stocks would be shipped to Russia for further enrichment and to France for reprocessing into fuel suitable for the Tehran reactor, which was supplied by the United States several decades ago.

However, the agreement is only "in principle" and the technical details need to be worked out at a meeting of the IAEA in Vienna on October 18.

source AFP

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