TEHRAN, Iran — Saying Iran appeared to be moving away from confrontation with the West, the head of the United Nations nuclear enforcement agency announced Sunday that Tehran had agreed to a date this month for international inspectors to visit what until recently had been a covert underground uranium enrichment plant.
The decision to open the plant to outside scrutiny on Oct. 25 was a concession by Tehran to diffuse Western criticism over the intent and scope of Iran's nuclear program. In a meeting with world powers last week, Iranian negotiators agreed in principle to grant the International Atomic Energy Agency access to the facility, which President Obama has criticized as a "direct challenge" to global nonproliferation.
"I see that we are shifting gears from confrontation into transparency and cooperation," said Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the IAEA, who arrived in Tehran on Saturday for talks in what he characterized as a critical moment.
"I hope and trust Iran will be helpful with our inspectors," he said, "so it is possible for us to be able to assess our verification of the facility as early as possible."
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In Washington, national security adviser James Jones noted during an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union": "The fact that Iran came to the table and seemingly showed some degree of cooperation, I think, is a good thing."
"But this is not going to be an open-ended process," he warned. "We, the world community, want to be satisfied within a short period of time."
ElBaradei spoke at a news conference with Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization. Their appearance together came after a week of public condemnations and closed-door diplomacy over the Fordu uranium enrichment plant being built beneath the mountains near the city Qom. The U.N. says Iran violated international law by not notifying the IAEA when construction started more than three years ago.
"It is important for us to send our inspectors to assure ourselves that this facility is for peaceful purposes," ElBaradei said. "Iran should have informed us the day they... decided to construct the facility."
Iran's contention was that disclosure of the Fordu plant was not required until at least six months before nuclear materials were moved into the facility, which is expected to house 3,000 centrifuges for enriching uranium."We will have a meeting to discuss the technical details, and hopefully we will hammer out an agreement as early as possible," ElBaradei said.