* High-level IAEA team expected in Iran in late January
* Iran says willing to discuss U.N. nuclear suspicions
* Western diplomats suspect another stalling tactic
(Adds analyst comment on assassination, detail, edits)
By Fredrik Dahl
VIENNA, Jan 13 Iran will need to show
genuine readiness to address mounting suspicions about its
nuclear programme at rare talks with senior U.N. officials this
month to convince a sceptical West that it is not just stalling.
With Iran facing intensifying sanctions pressure, a
high-level team from the U.N. atomic watchdog is expected to
visit this month, seeking explanations on long-standing concerns
that Iran may be trying to develop nuclear weapons capability.
Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) has said the Islamic Republic is ready to answer the
agency's questions in order to remove "any ambiguities" about
its nuclear work and clear up the issue once and for all.
But Iranian officials have used such language before, and
diplomats say this will not be enough to satisfy the IAEA.
"I would tend to be rather pessimistic," one Western envoy
said. "This road is paved with danger and past experience cannot
render anyone optimistic."
Another diplomat added: "I doubt very seriously that (the
high-level U.N. nuclear mission) will lead to anything."
Iran rejects as forged accusations that it has coordinated
efforts to process uranium, test high explosives and revamp a
ballistic missile cone to accommodate a nuclear warhead.
But while U.N. inspectors regularly monitor Iran's declared
nuclear facilities, their movements are otherwise restricted,
and the IAEA has complained for years of a lack of access to
sites, equipment, documents and people relevant to its probe.
"They (the Iranians) should understand that they don't get
rid of these questions by not addressing them. This is something
the IAEA will definitely tell them," a Western official said.
But this week's assassination of a nuclear scientist in
Iran, which Tehran blamed on Israel, gives Iranian officials an
"excuse to stonewall access to its scientific community and
subvert the agency's efforts," two nuclear experts said.
"If the IAEA loses some of its access, the world will have
markedly less information about Iran's nuclear programme, which
will make the goal of taming Iran's atomic ambitions more
difficult," Ali Vaez and Charles Ferguson of the
Washington-based Federation of American Scientists wrote in a
Daryl Kimball of the U.S.-based Arms Control Association
said it was critical to secure "more intrusive access by the
IAEA to all of Iran's nuclear-related activities" and convince
it to finally address questions about weapons-related work.
"The IAEA needs this increased access to detect and deter
any clandestine nuclear activities," he said in a comment.
Iran says its nuclear work is purely peaceful, and has shown
no substantial sign of changing its position.
But its leadership has come under pressure since the IAEA
reported in November, in a detailed 14-page document, that
Tehran appeared to have worked on designing a nuclear weapon and
that secret research to that end may be continuing.
Iran has also stoked Western suspicions by starting to
enrich uranium deep inside a mountain at Fordow.
European Union countries are now preparing a partial embargo
on Iranian oil to follow similar U.S. measures, and Iran has
threatened to retaliate by blocking Gulf oil shipping lanes.
But Tehran has also signalled readiness to resume talks with
big powers over its nuclear programme that have been frozen for
a year over its refusal to discuss suspending enrichment.
The IAEA's chief safeguards inspector, Herman Nackaerts,
Assistant Director General Rafael Grossi and other senior
officials will probably visit Tehran around Jan. 28, although
this has not yet been finalised, diplomats say.
"The Iranians don't have much to lose by holding these
talks," the Western official said. "For the Iranians, I believe
it is important to have good relations with the IAEA."
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)