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Last Updated: Sunday, 27 July, 2003, 13:45 GMT 14:45 UK
Iran official backs nuclear protocol
Iranian soldiers and missiles
The recently inaugurated Shahab lll missile added to international fears
Iran's representative on the United Nations nuclear watchdog has urged his government to sign up to closer inspections of its nuclear sites.

Ali Akbar Salehi said signing the additional protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty would help ease the pressure Tehran faced from the international community.

Last week foreign ministers from the EU joined the United States, Russia and Australia in voicing concerns over Iran's nuclear programme and urged Tehran to fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In an interview in Sunday's state-run Iran newspaper, Mr Salehi said Tehran should take a "positive view" of the protocol, which allows IAEA experts to conduct more rigorous visits to nuclear sites at short notice.

"We can use it to close the book on the politicised issue of our nuclear activities," Mr Salehi said.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is purely for peaceful purposes.

Opposition in parliament

Mr Salehi said he thought the protocol had "not been properly introduced to our society".

IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei (L) with Iranian President Khatami in Tehran
An IAEA meeting in September will discuss Iran's progress

"The protocol has not been drawn up only for Iran or Third World countries. This is an international protocol and all the countries of the IAEA will accede to it sooner or later."

Mr Salehi said he hoped Tehran would take measures to satisfy international concerns before September.

The IAEA board of directors meets then to discuss Iran's progress since June, when an initial report came out.

However, the BBC's Miranda Eeles in Tehran says observers believe the September date to be unlikely.

Any move on the protocol would have to be passed in parliament, then ratified by the supervisory body, the Guardian Council, she says.

In addition, some members of parliament have suggested that instead of signing up to tighter inspections, Iran should pull out of the treaty altogether.

A group of IAEA legal experts has been invited to Iran to discuss the implications of signing the protocol and are expected in early August.

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