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UN nuclear agency team arrives in Tehran

By Irmgard Rieger and Farshid Motahari

TEHRAN, Iran — Officials from the United Nations nuclear agency arrived Saturday in Tehran for talks aimed at allaying concerns that Tehran is seeking a nuclear weapon.

It was still unclear whether the International Atomic Energy Agency team, headed by chief inspector Herman Nackaerts, would inspect nuclear sites or just discuss with Iranian officials possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programmes.

Although not officially disclosed, the IAEA team is expected to meet with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saedi Jalili and atomic chief Fereydoun Abbasi.

There will be no meeting with Foreign Minister Ali-Akbar Salehi, who left Tehran earlier Saturday for Ethiopia to attend the African summit.

“We are looking forward to start with a dialogue, a dialogue that is overdue since very long,” Nackaerts said before boarding a plane in Vienna, where the agency is based.

“In particular we hope that Iran will engage with us on our concerns regarding the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear programme,” said Nackaerts, who is heading the team along with Rafael Grossi, a top advisor to IAEA director Yukiya Amano.

Iran has said it will cooperate with the IAEA team during their three-day visit but indicated it would not give up uranium enrichment, which it considers a sovereign right.

“We have always been open with regards to our nuclear issues, and the IAEA team coming to Iran can make the necessary inspections,” Ali-Akbar Velayati, advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told the ISNA news agency.

“We will, however, not withdraw from our nuclear rights as we have constantly acted within international regulations and in line with the laws of the non-proliferation treaty,” Velayati said.

If inspections are made, one site could be the new Fordo uranium enrichment facility south of the capital Tehran, which will become operational next month.

Sources close to the IAEA said the visit would not involve inspections of nuclear facilities but would focus on resuming talks on Iran’s disputed nuclear program, which the West suspects has a military dimension.

Since 2008, Tehran has declined to fully cooperate with the IAEA and denies it is seeking a nuclear bomb.

The visit could pave the way for the resumption of talks between Iran and world powers Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. The last round of talks in January 2011 ended without a breakthrough.

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