Saturday, February 03, 2007

Iran Opens a Nuclear Site to International Visitors

Published: February 4, 2007
The New York Times

ISFAHAN, Iran, Feb. 3 — Iran opened one of its nuclear sites to a large number of local and international reporters and a delegation of foreign ambassadors on Saturday in an effort to show the transparency of its program before a United Nations Security Council deadline this month.

Delegations from the Non-Aligned Movement, Group of 77 and League of Arab States arrived at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility in central Iran with nearly 100 reporters. The delegation included representatives from the United Nations nuclear agency from Algeria, Cuba, Egypt and Malaysia, though none were official inspectors.

Iran has kept up efforts to give the Isfahan facility more publicity, and a senior tourism official said late last year that Iran planned to open it and other nuclear sites to foreign tourists.

Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said Saturday that the purpose of the tour was to assure the world that Iran’s program was peaceful.

“In fact we have representatives from all over the world,” Mr. Soltanieh said. “We decided to have them come here and see for themselves.” He made a point of emphasizing the International Atomic Energy Agency surveillance cameras in place there.

Photographers and video camera operators were not allowed to take pictures in the outside area of the compound. But the visitors were given special clothes, gloves and masks to protect them from radiation and toured the main facility for nearly an hour.

The Isfahan site is where uranium ore is converted into yellow cake and gas. The gas is then transferred to the more sophisticated site in Natanz, where it could be enriched with centrifuges.

Reporters today passed the Natanz enrichment site, but they were not permitted to tour that site, where Iran recently said it was installing 3,000 centrifuges. The facility is near the main road, and like Isfahan, it was surrounded by antiaircraft artillery. The Isfahan site also had air-raid bunkers.

Iran insists that its program is peaceful, but the United States and European countries contend that Iran is trying to build a program that eventually could produce enough highly enriched uranium to make nuclear weapons.

The tour occurred as a United Nations deadline this month for Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program or face tougher economic sanctions neared. The United Nations Security Council passed a resolution on Dec. 23 banning the trade of goods and technology related to Iran’s nuclear program.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has brushed off the sanctions as insignificant and has vowed to continue with the program.