April 10, 2007 / 8:28 AM / 12 years ago

Inspectors in Iran after nuclear announcement

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Two U.N. nuclear inspectors began a week-long trip to Iran on Tuesday to visit the country’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility, a day after Tehran declared it had begun industrial atomic work at the site.

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani watches a performance during a ceremony at the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility 220 miles south of Tehran April 9, 2007. REUTERS/Caren Firouz

An Iranian official confirmed the inspectors’ arrival to Reuters and said they were on a routine visit. He gave no further details.

Inspectors from the U.N. watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), routinely visit Natanz in central Iran and other declared nuclear sites although Tehran curtailed more intrusive snap inspections last year in retaliation for its case being sent to the U.N. Security Council.

Western nations fear Iran may divert fuel towards a covert military programme aimed at building atomic bombs. Iran denies this, saying the fuel would only be used in atomic reactors to generate electricity.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced during a visit to Natanz on Monday that Iran had begun industrial-scale nuclear fuel production, a fresh snub to the U.N. Security Council which has slapped sanctions on Tehran for refusing to halt such work.

Iranian officials said Iran had started injecting gas into a batch of 3,000 atomic centrifuges that are being installed at Natanz. But they gave no figures for the number of machines set up and running, saying U.N. inspectors would confirm numbers.

The semi-official Fars news agency said the IAEA inspectors would stay in Iran for one week.

Uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas is injected into centrifuges which spin at high speeds and enrich uranium for power plant fuel or, if enriched to much higher levels, for bomb material.

Iran insists its work is peaceful, has refused to stop the work and says it is ready for talks to reassure the West about its intentions. But it says it will not accept preconditions for those negotiations.

The United States and others have insisted they will not negotiate until Tehran suspends enrichment.

“We have passed the stage of setting conditions for talks ... We believe that other parties should move forward based on new realities,” Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told a news conference with a visiting Afghan official on Tuesday.

“We have always said we are ready for talks if they have something new to say. We are fully prepared for talks without preconditions to reach a solution,” he added.

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