Initial reports from an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) mission suggest that inspectors have discovered enriched uranium in environmental samples taken in Iran. The IAEA is expected to report on the results of its most recent inspections on 8 September. Earlier, on 13 June, IAEA inspectors reported that Iran is constructing a pilot enrichment plant and a commercial-scale plant at Natanz. Under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to which Iran is a signatory, uranium enrichment for civilian purposes may be carried out, provided the IAEA is informed and the process subjected to safeguards inspections.

Iran has so far resisted calls from the IAEA to sign the so-called additional protocol to the NPT, which would allow the agency to conduct more rigorous, short-notice inspections. IAEA director general Mohamed ElBaradei said an IAEA team will visit Tehran in the next few weeks to clarify certain aspects of the additional protocol. The head of Iran’s atomic energy body, Gholam-Reza Aghazadeh, said: “We want the IAEA demands to be specific, and put into documentation. That is why we need to conduct more negotiations with both the UN general secretary and the general council of the IAEA.” The European Union (EU) also called on Iran to implement additional safeguards. Foreign ministers, meeting in a General Affairs Council, linked cooperation on resolving suspicions about an Iranian nuclear weapons programme to further progress on a bilateral EU-Iran trade agreement. The ministers said progress on the two issues represented “interdependent, essential and mutually reinforcing elements of EU-Iran relations.” Iran has invited the European Parliament to send a mission to inspect its nuclear energy projects. “If you are interested, please send a delegation to Iran to inspect the sites … so that your minds are calmed,” Mohsen Mirdamadi, the chair of Iran’s parliamentary security and foreign policy committee told ministers. He said: “I can assure you, we will not use nuclear energy for harmful reasons … we do know that we have to create an assurance that nothing we do is wrong.” Meanwhile, Japan has linked a $2 billion oil deal with Iran to greater transparency from Iran over its suspected nuclear weapons programme. A Japanese government spokesman said Tokyo would watch how Iran clears up growing suspicions about its nuclear ambitions before it approves the deal to develop the Azadegan oil field. Chief cabinet secretary Yasuo Fukuda said he did not think the crude oil plan, currently being negotiated by a consortium of Tomen Corporation, Inpex Corporation and Japan Petroleum Exploration, will move ahead unless international fears are resolved.

The US government has placed economic sanctions on five Chinese firms and one North Korean firm for what it claims was “aiding Iran’s development of weapons of mass destruction.” State department spokesman Richard Boucher said this brought the number of firms under economic sanctions by the USA for trading in suspected equipment prohibited by the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000 to 15. He said: “Penalties were imposed on these entities as provided in the Iran Nonproliferation Act for the transfer to Iran in the first half of 2002 of equipment and technology listed on multilateral export-control lists, or otherwise having the potential to make a material contribution to weapons of mass destruction.” The US government is applying sanctions to the Chinese firms Talian Foreign Trade General, Zibo Chemical Equipment Plant and South Industries Science and Technology Trading, Liyang Yunlong Chemical Equipment, China North Industries, and China Precision Machinery Import/Export. The US government is also applying sanctions to Changgwang Sinyong of North Korea.