UN nuclear agency team arrives in Tehran

UN-IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei said Iran is making 'good progress' in responding to queries related to its nuclear programme (REUTERS)
 
 
A team from the United Nations (UN) nuclear watchdog arrived in Tehran on Sunday for a new round of talks aimed at clearing up suspicions about Iran's atomic activities, the Iranian media reported.
 
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) experts came to the Iranian capital less than a week after a United States (US) intelligence report said the Islamic Republic had halted its nuclear weapons programme in 2003.
 
"These negotiations ... will start tomorrow and will last three days," Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's envoy to the Vienna-based IAEA, told Fars News Agency.
 
US President George W. Bush has said Iran remains a danger because it is mastering technology with a military use. But the intelligence report is likely to complicate US efforts to push through new UN sanctions against Iran over its atomic work.
 
Iranian officials say their country's nuclear programme was always peaceful and have warned that any new punitive measures would hurt their cooperation with IAEA inspectors.
 
Iran and the UN body agreed in August on a timetable for answering outstanding questions about nuclear activities which Tehran says are aimed only at generating electricity.
 
The IAEA said in a report last month that Tehran was cooperating but not proactively. IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei said Iran was making "good progress" in answering questions about its plans.
 
Iran, which stonewalled UN agency investigators for years, is to provide answers in phases by the end of the year under the August agreement.
 
Previous talks dealt with centrifuges used to enrich uranium and other issues, and this week's sessions are expected to focus on questions about particles of arms-grade enriched uranium found by IAEA inspectors at Tehran's Technical University.
 
"Negotiations with the IAEA delegation are being held ... in order to resolve expertise and technical issues in regards to the source of contamination," Soltanieh said.
 
Enriched uranium can be used both for fuelling power plants and, if refined much further, for making bombs.
 
Iran's Foreign Ministry criticised comments by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said in Bahrain on Saturday that Iran posed a threat to the US and the region despite the US intelligence estimate, which was published on December 3.
 
"Such statements are interfering in the internal affairs of the countries of the region and they are trying to mar cooperation among regional powers," spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told a news conference on Sunday. (REUTERS)
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