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Last Updated: Monday, 30 June, 2003, 12:36 GMT 13:36 UK
Iran 'invites' nuclear chief back
Mohamed ElBaradei
The IAEA wants Iran to agree to tougher inspections

Iran has reportedly said it will soon invite the head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog to visit the country.

Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, will be permitted to return to Iran to clear up "technical problems" delaying Iran's agreement to tighter inspections of its nuclear facilities.

News of the invitation was given to the visiting UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw by the secretary of Iran's' Supreme National Security Council, Hasan Rowhani, the official Iranian news agency (Irna) reported.

Iran has not specified what the "technical problems" are.

Mr Rowhani also told Mr Straw that, in the interests of greater transparency, Iran was ready to allow the big industrialised countries to participate in its nuclear projects, Irna said.

But, in an explicit warning to the US, he warned that Iran's "technical problems" should not be misconstrued.

"These technical problems should not be used as an excuse by the United States to make hostile acts against Iran," Mr Rowhani was quoted as saying to Mr Straw, who was concluding his visit to the country.

Pressure resisted

Mr Straw, along with the IAEA itself, the European Union, the United States and others, is pressing Iran to sign an additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) allowing tougher IAEA inspections.

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (left) and Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi
Straw (left) told Iran that its relationship with the EU may be affected

There is growing international concern that Iran might be developing nuclear weapons. However, Tehran insists that it is only interested in atomic energy for peaceful purposes.

BBC correspondent Jim Muir says that it seems Mr Straw's visit to the country has produced some hope of a breakthrough on the subject.

However, a good deal of work clearly remains to be done to pin down an elusive Iranian signature to the protocol, our correspondent adds.

Iran has previously resisted UK pressure to open up its nuclear sites to tougher inspections, saying it would expect "positive steps" in return.

"We are ready for talks and co-operation. But Iran's transparency should be reciprocated," Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said during Mr Straw's visit.

Mr Straw had earlier warned him the issue could affect Iran's relations with the European Union (EU).

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