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Iran refuses U.N. inspectors access to its underground nuclear site

TEHRAN, Iran – Iran turned away U.N. inspectors from an underground site meant to shelter its uranium enrichment program from attack, diplomats said Monday, while the country’s supreme leader insisted Tehran will not give up its contentious nuclear technology.Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s comments came on the eve of a self-imposed deadline to respond formally to Western incentives aimed at curbing its atomic program, deflating hopes that Iran will accept a U.N. Security Council demand that it freeze enrichment by Aug. 31 or face the possibility of sanctions.Iran’s unprecedented refusal to allow access to its underground facility at Natanz could seriously hamper U.N. attempts to ensure Tehran is not trying to produce nuclear weapons, and might violate the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, diplomats and U.N. officials told The Associated Press.Speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information, the diplomats and officials from the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, described other signs of Iranian defiance.They said Iran denied entry visas to two IAEA inspectors in the last few weeks after doing the same earlier this summer for Chris Charlier, the expert heading the U.N. agency’s team to Tehran. Additionally, they said, other inspectors were given only single-entry visas during their visits to Iran last week, instead of the customary multiple-entry permits.Iran’s reported actions were likely to harden Western resolve to punish the Tehran regime if it refuses to give up uranium enrichment, which can be used to create the fissile core of nuclear warheads.Diplomats told AP on Monday that sanctions could include a ban on the sale of missile and nuclear technology to Tehran, international refusal to grant entry visas to people involved in Iran’s nuclear program and a freeze of their assets, and a ban on investment in Iran.IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei is to report by Sept. 11 to the agency’s board on Iran’s compliance with the Security Council deadline on freezing enrichment and on other aspects of Tehran’s cooperation with U.N. inspectors.The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said that “nothing surprises me about how Iran treats its obligations” under the nonproliferation agreement. He said Iran concealed things from inspectors in the past and alleged Tehran also has falsified data.Although Bolton said he had no specific knowledge of the reported recent blocking of U.N. inspectors, he said, “More obstructionism doesn’t surprise me at all.”IAEA officials at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria, refused to comment.The Islamic republic has promised to formally respond Tuesday to an offer of economic and political rewards for it to freeze enrichment and negotiate strengthened monitoring of its nuclear program.The proposal from six world powers – the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – includes promises that the United States and Europe will provide civilian nuclear technology and that Washington will join direct talks with Iran.But Iran’s supreme leader again ruled out an enrichment freeze.”The Islamic Republic of Iran has made its own decision and in the nuclear case, God willing, with patience and power, will continue its path,” Khamenei was quoted as saying Monday by state television.He accused the United States of pressuring Iran despite Tehran’s assertions it is not working on nuclear weapons, as Washington and its key allies contend. Iran says its enrichment work is intended solely to produce fuel for nuclear reactors that will generate electricity.”Arrogant powers and the U.S. are putting their utmost pressure on Iran while knowing Iran is not pursuing nuclear weapons,” Khamenei said.Iran said Sunday that it would offer a “multifaceted response” to the incentives proposal but already insisted a full enrichment freeze was out of the question.In Washington, President Bush said Iran already was giving an inkling of its response. “Dates are fine,” he said, “but what really matters is will. And one of the things I will continue to remind our friends and allies is the danger of a nulear-armed Iran.”A State Department spokesman, Gonzalo Gallegos, said, “We await their final decision.”German Chancellor Angela Merkel pressed for a “solid answer” from Iran. “I still hope that it will be positive, although some signals have been very confused,” she said.Tehran says uranium enrichment does not violate any of its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.But U.N. officials suggested the refusal to allow IAEA inspectors access to the underground nuclear site being built at Natanz was in itself a violation of the treaty because it contravenes Tehran’s commitment to inform the agency of the progress of such projects.Iranian officials have said the country intended to move toward large-scale uranium enrichment involving 3,000 interconnected centrifuges in underground halls at Natanz, in central Iran, by late this year and would later expand the program to 54,000 centrifuges.Former U.N. nuclear inspector David Albright, president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, describes the site as a vast complex 75 feet underground, covered by layers of materials. It is unclear whether that includes concrete.—Associated Press writers George Jahn reported this story from Vienna, Austria, and Nasser Karimi from Tehran, Iran.—On the Net:International Atomic Energy Agency: http://www.iaea.org


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