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Once-secret Iranian site inspected by U.N.

TEHRAN, Iran — U.N. inspectors entered a once-secret uranium enrichment facility with bunker-like construction and heavy military protection that raised Western suspicions about the extent and intent of Iran's nuclear program.

The visit Sunday by the four-member International Atomic Energy Agency team, reported by state media, was the first independent look inside the planned nuclear fuel lab, a former ammunition dump burrowed into the treeless hills south of Tehran and publicly disclosed only last month. The inspectors are expected to study plant blueprints, interview workers and take soil samples before wrapping up the three-day mission.

No results from the inspection are expected until the team leaves the country, but some Iranian officials hailed the visit as an example that their nuclear program was open to international scrutiny.

"IAEA inspectors' visit to Fordo shows that Iran's nuclear activities are transparent and peaceful," the official IRNA news agency quoted lawmaker Hasan Ebrahimi as saying.

Another test of Iran's cooperation is fast approaching. Iran has promised to respond this week to a U.N.-brokered deal to process its nuclear fuel abroad — a plan designed to ease Western fears about Iran's potential ability to produce weapons-grade material.

Iran says its other known enrichment facility — a much larger industrial-scale plant in Natanz in central Iran — is also only to produce nuclear fuel and not at levels for weapons. But many experts say the enrichment centrifuges could be expanded and upgraded to make weapons-grade material.

Iran also has promised to respond this week on a U.N.-drafted proposal to have its nuclear fuel processed in Russia, which would limit Iran's stockpiles and allow more international controls.

Once-secret Iranian site inspected by U.N. 10/25/09 [Last modified: Sunday, October 25, 2009 10:30pm]
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