TEHRAN, Iran – Iran reaffirmed its commitment to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty on Sunday, a day after its hard-line president implied Tehran was considering withdrawing from the pact after being reported to the U.N. Security Council.
The declaration by the Iranian Foreign Ministry came as inspectors from the U.N. nuclear watchdog arrived in the Islamic republic over the weekend to evaluate what controls remained on nuclear sites and equipment after Tehran reduced the agency's monitoring power to a minimum, diplomats said.
A diplomat told The Associated Press Saturday that some seals and cameras had been removed within the last few days, suggesting that happened without IAEA supervision. But others familiar with the probe said Sunday they doubted the Iranians would make such a move before the arrival of the inspectors.
The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak on the issue.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi urged a peaceful solution to the dispute over his country's nuclear program.
"We are still committed to the provisions of the NPT. But we can't accept its use as a (political) instrument. We will cooperate in the treaty and the safeguards' framework," Asefi said at a weekly news conference.
On Saturday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rejected U.S. and European pressure to freeze the country's nuclear program and hinted that Iran might withdraw from the treaty.
"The nuclear policy of the Islamic Republic so far has been peaceful. Until now, we have worked inside the agency (IAEA) and the NPT regulations," he said in a speech before tens of thousands of Iranians marking the 27th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.
"If we see you want to violate the right of the Iranian people by using those regulations (against us), you should know that the Iranian people will revise its policies," he said.
He did not specify what changes Tehran envisioned, but it was believed to be a threat to withdraw from the NPT and the IAEA.
Tehran repeatedly has stressed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty allows it to pursue a nuclear program for peaceful purposes and it has said it will never give up the right to enrich uranium to produce nuclear fuel.
The U.S. and its European allies believe Iran is seeking to develop atomic weapons. The IAEA reported Tehran to the Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions, earlier this month after talks failed between the Iranians and European negotiators.
Uranium enriched to a low degree can be used for nuclear reactors, while highly enriched uranium is suitable for warheads.
The foreign ministry spokesman urged the IAEA and Europeans to keep open diplomatic channels.
"The agency and other parties should not block roads to Islamic Republic of Iran and should solve the case in the framework of the regulations," Asefi said.
He rejected comments by British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, who said last week that there was no proof but "very high level of suspicion" that Iran was trying to build a nuclear weapon.
"How do you apply a policy of non-trust toward Iran when there is no proof that Iran is trying to divert its nuclear program toward a weapon?" Asefi asked.
Tensions escalated last month after Iran removed U.N. seals and began nuclear research, including small-scale uranium enrichment at its plant in Natanz, central Iran.
In Vienna, Austria, diplomats told AP that the IAEA still has some seals and equipment at Natanz and Isfahan, where Iran is converting raw uranium into the feedstock gas for enrichment. The seals and cameras were allowed under basic agreements linked to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which Iran has signed.
Still, with those agreements only meant to monitor Iran's declared and existing nuclear stocks, they are considered inadequate in the agency's ongoing efforts to establish whether the country has tried to develop a nuclear weapons program at undeclared facilities.
Tehran had asked for a removal of all surveillance and monitoring equipment linked that went beyond its basic obligations as a signatory of the NPT in a letter a week ago to IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei.
Iranian officials had repeatedly warned they would stop honoring the so-called "Additional Protocol" to the treaty — which gave the agency the power to conduct inspections on short notice of suspect areas and programs — if the IAEA board referred their country to the council.
North Korea — the world's other major proliferation concern — quit the Nonproliferation Treaty in January 2003, just a few months before U.S. officials announced that Pyongyang had told them it had nuclear weapons and may test, export or use them depending on U.S. actions.