Fri Feb 2, 2007 10:08 AM EST
By Parisa Hafezi
TEHRAN (Reuters) - A senior Iranian official said on Friday Tehran had allowed the installation of surveillance cameras at a complex where it is set to begin expanding enrichment of nuclear fuel.
The official, who declined to be identified further, spoke after diplomats in Vienna, where the U.N. atomic watchdog is based, said Iran had refused to let U.N. inspectors set up cameras at the underground section of the Natanz complex.
He also denied some reports abroad that Iran had begun installing 3,000 centrifuges to step up uranium enrichment. "It has not started yet," he said. Enriched uranium can be used to run power plants or to detonate atomic bombs.
The United Nations has slapped sanctions on Iran's nuclear program for defying demands to stop enriching uranium, a process Tehran insists is aimed only at generating electricity.
The West suspects the Islamic Republic is striving to build atomic bombs behind the facade of a civilian energy program. International Atomic Energy Agency investigations have found no proof of bombmaking, but raised many questions.
Tehran has invited six ambassadors from the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) of developing nations for a "transparency" visit to Iranian nuclear facilities on Saturday, although they are not due to see the centerpiece Natanz installation.
They will instead tour a uranium-conversion facility near the central city of Isfahan, where the uranium hexafluoride gas is made for feeding into centrifuge enrichment machines. They may also visit a heavy water reactor project at Arak.
NAM diplomats said Iran invited the envoys, accredited to the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency, to show openness about its program. Washington says simply showcasing Iran's nuclear activities would not build confidence abroad.
NUCLEAR DIVERSION FEARS
The IAEA conducts inspections of Natanz and other Iranian nuclear facilities to try to verify that work is not being diverted to making nuclear bombs, which the West fears. Iran denies such intentions.
"The installation of cameras has taken place in Natanz. We have cooperated with the IAEA based on the safeguards and we will continue to do so in the framework of cooperation and treaties," the Iranian official told Reuters.
"The installation of monitoring systems and surveillance is taking place correctly and in the past days, the monitoring system has been strengthened and there is no problem regarding this issue between Iran and the agency," he said.
The official said he was referring to Natanz's underground hall, where 3,000 centrifuges are set to be hooked up. The complex includes a small, above-ground centrifuge research facility that is under steady IAEA camera surveillance.
Asked about the Iranian official's denial, a Vienna diplomat familiar with IAEA operations reaffirmed that Iran had caused a holdup with camera preparations at the underground plant.
"But it's not a fait accompli. There have been contacts to resolve the matter," the diplomat told Reuters on Friday.
An Iranian news agency, however, said plans to expand work at Natanz might bring "limited changes" in the way inspectors carried out their work, including camera installation.
Student news agency ISNA said the decision to move from research at Natanz to industrial-level work "will naturally have some limited changes in the way the inspectors inspect and install cameras, and in some of the agency's technical and legal regulations." ISNA did not elaborate or give a clear source.
The major expansion of centrifuge capacity is part of plans to ramp up from experimental research, purifying token amounts of uranium, to so-called "industrial-scale" enrichment.
It would not be illegal for Iran to refuse to allow cameras to be hooked up in the subterranean centrifuge hall because nuclear work has not yet commenced.
(Additional reporting by Mark Heinrich in Vienna)