TEHRAN, Iran – The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said Sunday there is a "shifting of gears" in Iran's confrontation with the West to more cooperation and transparency and he announced that international inspectors would visit Tehran's newly revealed uranium enrichment site on Oct. 25.
The International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei, speaking at a joint news conference in Tehran with Iran's top nuclear official, said his agency "has no concrete proof of an ongoing weapons program in Iran." But the IAEA has "concerns about Iran's future intentions," he said.
"I see that we are at a critical moment. I see that we are shifting gears from confrontation into transparency and cooperation," said ElBaradei.
His visit followed a week of intense diplomatic activity surrounding Iran's nuclear program, set off by the revelation that Tehran had been secretly constructing a new uranium enrichment plant just north of the holy city of Qom. On Thursday, Iran and six world powers put nuclear talks back on track at a landmark session in Geneva that included the highest-level bilateral contact with the U.S. in years.
ElBaradei arrived Saturday to set up the U.N. inspection of the Qom facility. The revelation of the plant heightened suspicion that Tehran is using a civilian nuclear program as a cover for developing a weapons-making capability. Iran denies that and says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.
"I hope and trust Iran will be helpful with our inspectors so it is possible for us to be able to assess our verification of the facility as early as possible," ElBaradei said, seated next to Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's nuclear agency. "We need transparency on the part of Iran and we need cooperation on the part of the international community," he said.
Obama and the leaders of France and Britain accused Iran of keeping the construction hidden from the world for years. Obama said last month that Iran's actions "raised grave doubts" about its promise to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes only. Uranium enrichment can be used in the process of producing both nuclear energy and nuclear weapons.
"As I have said many times and I continue to say today, the agency has no complete proof that there is an ongoing weapons program in Iraq," ElBaradei said. "There are allegations that Iran has conducted weaponization studies. However these allegations we are still looking into and we are looking to Iran to help us clarify," he added.
Iranian officials argue that under IAEA safeguard rules, a member nation is required to inform the U.N. agency about the existence of a nuclear facility six months before introducing nuclear material into the machines. Iran says the new facility won't be operational for 18 months, and so it has not violated any IAEA requirements.
The IAEA has said that Iran is obliged under the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to notify the organization when it begins to design a new nuclear facility.
Suspicion that Iran's newly revealed nuclear site was meant for military purposes was heightened by its location, at least partly inside a mountain and next to a military base.
ElBaradei also discussed a plan to allow Russia to take some of Iran's processed uranium and enrich it to higher levels to fuel a research reactor in Tehran.
He said that there would be a meeting Oct. 19 in Vienna with Iran, the U.S., France and Russia to discuss the details of that agreement.