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Wed 10 Oct 2007 12:48 AM

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IAEA in talks with Tehran

UN nuclear watchdog visits Iran to clear up questions about country's controversial atomic programme.

A team led by the UN nuclear watchdog's second-in-command held talks with Iranian officials in Tehran on Tuesday to try to clear up questions about the country's disputed atomic programme.

Iran agreed with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in August to explain the scope of its nuclear work, which the West fears is a cover for building an atomic bomb. Iran rejects the charge, saying its atomic work is peaceful.

As part of the deal, an Iranian team met IAEA officials in September to answer outstanding questions over centrifuges used for uranium enrichment. The process can make fuel for nuclear power plants or, if Iran wanted, material for nuclear warheads.

State television said the talks began between Olli Heinonen, IAEA deputy director-general, and Iran's deputy nuclear negotiator, Javad Vaeedi. IRNA news agency said the IAEA team, which arrived early on Tuesday, would stay two or three days.

Talks would cover P-1 and P-2 centrifuges, IRNA reported. Iran uses a 1970s vintage of centrifuge, called P-1s, which are prone to breakdown if spun at high speed for long periods. It is researching an advanced P-2 model at sites off limits to IAEA inspectors.

"The process is on track," a senior Vienna diplomat familiar with IAEA-Iran contacts said, adding that the two sides were meeting earlier than the previous plan of mid-October.

"I would treat the earlier date for this meeting generally as a positive step," the diplomat said.

The deal with the IAEA allows Iran to settle questions one by one over a timeline the agency says would run to December.

The UN Security Council has imposed two sets of limited sanctions on Tehran for its refusal to halt enrichment, the part of Iran's programme that most worries the West.

Major powers have agreed to delay further UN sanctions until November, to see whether the pact between Iran and the IAEA yields results, and to await a report by European Union negotiator Javier Solana on talks with Iran.

The UN Security Council and Germany are negotiating on a third resolution against Tehran. France and Germany have also signalled that Europe could punish Iran for pressing ahead with its nuclear work before further UN sanctions.

Gholamali Haddadadel, speaker of the Iranian parliament, said his country was not worried about the threat of sanctions but expected the nuclear issue to be resolved.

"We believe the resolution of the nuclear case is possible through the IAEA. But if we get a sense we are not going to secure our rights through membership in the IAEA, then the parliament will reconsider cooperation of Iran with IAEA," he told a news conference in Geneva.

"At the present time we are happy with our cooperation and the IAEA is happy, it is mutually reinforcing. We believe we are on the correct path with the agency. If it produces good results then the parliament can consider ratification of the Additional Protocol," he said.

Iran ended voluntary implementation of the protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty in February 2006 after being referred to the Security Council. The pact permits broader, short-notice inspections of sites not declared to be nuclear.

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