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Friday, 13 December, 2002, 11:51 GMT
Nuclear inspectors to visit Iran sites
Iran's President Khatami (left) and Russia's President Putin
Iran is building a nuclear plant with Russian help
United Nations inspectors are to visit two new nuclear facilities in Iran which America says could be used to develop nuclear weapons.

A team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will visit the sites near Natanz and Arak, in central Iran, in February 2003, a spokesman for the watchdog told Reuters news agency.

We don't have any hidden atomic activities

Iranian Government
The IAEA said it would not be able to determine the purpose of the facilities until they had been inspected.

Earlier, Iran denied US accusations that it might be pursuing a secret nuclear weapons programme.

"We don't have any hidden atomic activities. All our nuclear activities are for non-military fields," a government spokesman told reporters.

Satellite photographs

United States officials said on Friday that two sites had been spotted in commercial satellite photographs taken in September.

Bushehr plant
Iran's Bushehr plant will go on line next year

Both facilities are of a type that could be used to help build a nuclear weapon, the officials said.

An unnamed source at the IAEA told the Associated Press news agency that it had asked to visit the facilities because it was "concerned" about their use.

The IAEA was originally due to visit Tehran this month, but it was postponed at Iran's request, an agency spokeswoman said.

Iranian media reported on Thursday that Iran was exploring the feasibility of building a second nuclear power plant.

A nuclear power plant is already being built, with the help of Russian technicians, at the port of Bushehr, and is scheduled to begin operating in 2004.

Rebel revelations

In September, Iran informed the IAEA it was engaged in a 20-year programme to build new facilities to recycle nuclear fuel.

Map of Iran showing Tehran, Arak, Natanz and Bushehr

IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said Iran did not specify the purpose of the two sites in question.

The whereabouts of the two facilities were first revealed by a Paris-based Iranian rebel group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

The US says it is concerned that Iran intends to develop weapons-grade plutonium there.

American intelligence officials argue that this is the only reason why an oil rich state like Iran would need a nuclear power plant.

Earlier this year, the director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), George Tenet, said America was concerned that countries like Iran may make "sudden leaps" in their nuclear programmes.

The US Government considers Iran a supporter of terrorism and dubbed it part of an "axis of evil" alongside Iraq and North Korea.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jane Bennett-Powell reports
"Iran insists its facilities are for medical, chemical or research needs"
White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer
"Such facilities are simply not justified by the needs that Iran has"
See also:

01 Sep 02 | Middle East
16 Aug 02 | Middle East
02 Aug 02 | Middle East
01 Aug 02 | Middle East
06 Nov 02 | Country profiles
05 Oct 02 | Middle East
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