TEHRAN, Iran – Five inspectors from the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency have arrived in Iran visit its uranium enrichment and reprocessing facilities, state-run television reported Saturday.
Iran's deputy nuclear chief Mohammad Saeedi said the inspectors would visit the Natanz uranium enrichment plant and the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility, both in central Iran, later Saturday.
The scheduled inspection comes ahead of a key visit to Iran by Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency. ElBaradei is expected to visit next week to try to wrest concessions from Iran on its atomic program, diplomats and officials said Friday.
The official Islamic Republic News Agency said the IAEA chief might arrive in Iran as early as Sunday or Monday.
The five inspectors, who arrived Friday, will stay in Iran for five days, state-run television reported.
Saeedi said the inspectors' visit was planned within the framework of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
In January, Iran forbade snap inspections after it was reported to the U.N. Security Council over suspicions in it is seeking nuclear weapons.
Natanz is the facility where Iran resumed research-scale uranium enrichment in February, and the Isfahan site reprocesses raw uranium into hexaflouride gas, the feedstock for enrichment.
Uranium enriched to low levels is used to produce nuclear fuel but further enrichment makes it suitable for use in an atomic bomb.
The U.S. accuses Iran of using its civilian nuclear facilities as a cover to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran denies the charges, saying its nuclear program is merely for generating electricity.
The nuclear program is a source of national pride in Iran, and even government opponents have expressed support for it.
The U.N. Security Council on March 29 demanded that Iran suspend enrichment and asked the IAEA to report back in 30 days on whether it had complied.
Iran has rejected the demand, saying the small-scale enrichment project was strictly for research and was within its rights under the NPT.
While ElBaradei's trip is meant to defuse tensions, a partial success could actually exacerbate differences among the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.
If Iran commits to some Security Council requests but does not meet demands to freeze uranium enrichment that might placate Russia and China, which oppose tough measures against Iran. It would, however, fall short of the full compliance sought by the United States, France and Britain on enrichment and other issues.