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Iran: Report will vindicate us

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A protest to denounce Iran's pledge to open its nuclear program to inspections.

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TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- Iran's declaration to the U.N. nuclear watchdog would show it was not trying to make atomic weapons, an Iranian official said Friday as a key deadline for the Islamic Republic expired.

Iran's Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ali Akbar Salehi, told an Iranian news agency the IAEA had all the information it needed to produce a report showing Iran was pursuing a purely civilian nuclear energy program.

"Iran's will is to remove all the agency's ambiguities and to take all necessary steps to enable the agency to present a positive report to its governor's board," Salehi told the student news agency ISNA.

Iran gave the IAEA its report on October 23, detailing nuclear activities Washington suspects are a smokescreen for building atomic weapons. An Iranian official told Reuters the declaration was "comprehensive, transparent and faultless."

The IAEA had given Tehran an ultimatum to prove by October 31 that it has no secret arms program, or be reported to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.

But IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei said Friday it would take at least two more weeks to determine whether Iran's report proved it was not trying to build "The Bomb."

"It is too early, but I hope that we will be able to verify what the Iranians have assured us -- that this is a comprehensive and accurate declaration," ElBaradei told Reuters during a visit to U.N. headquarters.

ElBaradei told reporters he would probably not be able to complete checking Iran's declaration by the time he reports to the IAEA's Board of Governors in the second week of November "but I hope we'll have made substantial progress by that time."

In Moscow, a source in the Russian Atomic Energy Ministry said Iran would announce next week exactly when it would sign up to allowing the IAEA to conduct surprise nuclear inspections.

The announcement of when Iran will sign the Additional Protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) allowing snap inspections, is expected when Iranian National Security Council Chief Hassan Rohani visits Moscow next week.

"He is widely expected to announce the date of the signing, and I think the expectations are correct. It is highly likely he will give a date," the Russian source said.

ElBaradei said Thursday Iran's report seemed to be comprehensive at first glance, but more work needed to be done by U.N. inspectors still inside Iran.

"We are optimistic about the future," said Salehi. "We hope that soon Iran's nuclear case will be closed for ever." He said the IAEA inspectors would leave Iran Sunday.

A fierce debate blew up inside Iran after the IAEA set the deadline for Tehran to come clean about its nuclear program.

Reformists allied to President Mohammad Khatami argued in favor of tougher inspections but were opposed by hardliners.

On October 21 Tehran agreed to stop enriching uranium and sign the Additional Protocol, saying the decision had the blessing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's most powerful figure. Conservatives stopped criticising the decision.

"I suggest you do not express your views when you are not an expert and are not familiar with a sensitive issue," Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati told worshippers Friday at Tehran University.

Last month, Jannati said the Additional Protocol was an extraordinary humiliation for Iran and should never be accepted.

Nevertheless, some 1,500 hardliners protested the decision Friday.



Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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