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Iran and IAEA set talks on nuclear transparency

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran will hold a second round of talks with U.N. nuclear watchdog officials in Tehran on August 6 on an “action plan” to defuse suspicions of a covert atom bomb programme, a senior Iranian official said on Wednesday.

A technician works in the control room at the uranium conversion facility in Isfahan, 450 km south of Tehran, February 3, 2007. Iran will hold a second round of talks with U.N. nuclear watchdog officials in Tehran on August 6 on an "action plan" to defuse suspicions of a covert atom bomb programme, a senior Iranian official said on Wednesday. REUTERS/Caren Firouz

Iran says it aims to produce nuclear fuel for electricity. Western powers are mistrustful, based on Iran’s past concealment of sensitive atomic research and a failure to cooperate fully with U.N. inquiries into the scope of the programme.

After initial talks last month, Tehran allowed International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to revisit the Arak heavy-water site. Tehran had cut off access in April to protest at U.N. sanctions imposed over its refusal to halt atom work.

An IAEA official said the monitors who visited the Arak reactor, which is still under construction, were given full access by Iranian officials and met no obstacles.

“The IAEA team will arrive for further talks on Monday and they will stay for up to six days,” the Iranian official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

“We will continue to discuss the modalities on how to resolve the outstanding issues with the agency.”

IAEA officials said the focus of the August 6 talks would be steps to improve agency surveillance at the underground Natanz uranium enrichment plant as Iran seeks to shift from a small research-level programme to “industrial scale” production.

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Diplomats say inspectors have so far been barred from moving around and taking pictures inside Natanz’s hall of centrifuge enrichment machines, although they have been able to observe whatever is taken in and out of the complex.

IAEA Director Mohamed Elbaradei has said Iran’s pledge to work out an action plan by late August to remove suspicions that it is secretly trying to build atom bombs has raised hope of resolving a festering standoff between Iran and the West.

Tehran has so far rebuffed several U.N. Security Council resolutions engineered by Western powers demanding that it suspend all uranium enrichment-related activities.

The Security Council has slapped two sets of modest sanctions on the Islamic Republic since December.

Iran has threatened to review its cooperation level with the IAEA if a harsher, broader sanctions resolution is enacted.

However, Iran’s promised action plan has led big powers to shelve efforts to toughen sanctions against Iran at least until September.

ElBaradei, arguing against isolating Iran for fear this would kill off inspections, has also cited a slowdown in Iran’s expansion of its uranium enrichment detected by IAEA inspectors during an early July visit to Natanz.

The IAEA and Iran are to have higher-level talks on August 20 in Tehran to tackle the thorniest questions about its programme.

They include the origin of traces of highly enriched -- or bomb-grade -- uranium found on some equipment, experiments with plutonium, and the status of research into advanced centrifuges that can enrich three times as fast as the model Iran now uses.

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