Iran agrees to discussions with UN nuclear inspectors

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A SENIOR UN nuclear agency team will visit Tehran on January 28, with Iran saying it is ready to discuss allegations that it was involved in secret nuclear weapons work, diplomats said yesterday.

Diplomats have previously said that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials were discussing such a trip with their Iranian counterparts.

But before the diplomats’ comments yesterday, no date – or indication that Iran was ready to talk about the allegations – had been mentioned.

Any follow-through on the part of Iran on its reported pledge to discuss nuclear arms suspicions would be significant.

For more than three years, Tehran has blocked IAEA attempts to follow up on US and other intelligence alleging covert Iranian work on nuclear arms, dismissing the charges as baseless and insisting all its nuclear activities were peaceful and under IAEA review.

Faced with Iranian stonewalling, the Vienna-based IAEA summarised its body of information in November, in a 13-page document drawing on 1,000 pages of intelligence. It stated then for the first time that some of the alleged experiments can have no other purpose than developing nuclear weapons.

Iran continues to deny the charges and no change in its position is expected during the Tehran talks with IAEA officials.

But even a decision to enter a discussion over the allegations would be a major departure from outright refusal to talk about them - and create hopes of future progress in the investigation.

Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s chief IAEA delegate, declined to be drawn on what would be discussed in Tehran, indicating in comment that it was too early to go public with details.

Meanwhile, a hard-line Iranian newspaper has called for retaliation against Israel, a day after a nuclear scientist in Tehran was killed by a magnetic bomb attached to his car.

Hints from Israel reinforced the impression that the killing was part of an organised and secret campaign to set back Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Writing in the Kayhan newspaper, chief editor Hossein Shariatmadari asked why Iran did not retaliate. “Assassinations of Israeli military and officials are easily possible,” he wrote.

The attack – which instantly killed the scientist and his driver on Wednesday – was at least the fourth targeted hit against Iran’s nuclear experts in two years.

Tehran quickly blamed Israeli-linked agents backed by the US.

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