TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's president said Wednesday his government will do everything it can to allay concerns about its nuclear program as long as such efforts do not entail a threat to the nation's security.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (search) has given Iran until the end of the month to prove it has no plans to produce nuclear weapons. The U.N. watchdog has also called on Iran to sign an additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (search), providing IAEA inspectors with unfettered access to any site.
"We are ready to do everything that does not damage our national security, sovereignty and territorial integrity -- even accepting the additional protocol," President Mohammad Khatami (search) told reporters.
He did not explain in which circumstances IAEA access might be limited by national security concerns, and a government spokesman could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
"We are ready to exert all efforts to ease concerns ... (about) the proliferation of nuclear weapons, which we are sure we are not seeking," Khatami said. "But we expect our right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy to be respected."
Iran says its nuclear program is strictly for generating electricity, particularly after its oil reserves run out. But the United States strongly suspects that Iran is building atomic bombs, and has urged the IAEA to declare the country in breach of the treaty, which forbids the acquisition of nuclear weapons.
If the IAEA board of directors, which is scheduled to meet in November, is not satisfied by Iran's steps to comply with the Oct. 31 deadline, it is expected to refer the matter to the U.N. Security Council. The Security Council could impose sanctions on Iran.
Khatami did not promise that Iran will meet the deadline and hinted that more time might be needed.
"Still, we have time before the 90th minute," Khatami said with a smile, referring to the length of a soccer match and extra time for injuries. "Sometimes you have five to six minutes of extra time."
The president said he hoped the IAEA will issue a fair assessment of Iran's attempt to cooperate with the U.N. agency.
"We have implemented a considerable part of the protocol, and our cooperation has been beyond our obligations under Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. I hope, with the grace of God, the cooperation we have extended will lead to a fair report.
"That means the (IAEA) report will not be influenced by pressure," Khatami said, making an oblique reference to U.S. claims about Iran's nuclear program.
Khatami added that a majority of Iranians want their country to pursue a peaceful nuclear program.
Earlier this month, Iran's foreign minister said the country would do all it could to prevent the issue from going to the Security Council. But hardline members of the ruling hierarchy have called for a withdrawal from the treaty.