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Iran Says Cooperating With IAEA; West Skeptical

The heavy-water plant in Arak that was reportedly inspected by IAEA diplomats.
TEHRAN (Reuters) -- Iran will continue to cooperate with the UN nuclear watchdog, the Foreign Ministry has said, appearing to confirm that Tehran has let inspectors access a reactor under construction after blocking visits for a year.

The International Atomic Energy Agency is due to release a report on Iran's disputed nuclear program this week. Last week diplomats accredited to the Vienna-based agency said Iran had allowed the IAEA to inspect the Arak heavy-water reactor site.

The UN agency had urged Iran to grant access so it can verify that the site under construction is for peaceful uses only. The diplomats also said Iran had recently allowed an upgrade to monitoring at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant.

The moves were greeted with skepticism by the West, which suspects Iran is seeking to build nuclear bombs. Tehran says its nuclear work is to generate electricity. Uranium enrichment can have both civilian and military uses.

Asked on August 24 about the reported Arak visit and whether there had been a change or improvement in Iran's relations with the IAEA, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi told reporters: "All our nuclear activities have been within the framework of the agency and the NPT (Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty) ... [IAEA Director-General Muhammad] El-Baradei has always confirmed Iran's cooperation with the agency.

"This trend will be continued in the future. What has been mentioned recently was in the same framework," he added, appearing to refer to the reported Arak visit.

The United States, Britain, France, and Germany are expected to urge Russia and China in talks on September 2 to consider a fourth round of UN sanctions on Iran and the latest IAEA report will help form the basis for the discussions.

In Washington on August 21, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Iran's latest moves at the IAEA fell short of what was required and that Iran must live up to its international obligations. Several diplomats from the six world powers said they were skeptical about Iran's latest move.

To avoid further sanctions, Tehran must stop enrichment, come clean about its past nuclear activities, and sit down at the negotiating table, the diplomats said. Iran has repeatedly ruled out halting or freezing its nuclear program.

Western hopes that Iran would negotiate a cap on its nuclear work faded when it quelled unrest over alleged fraud in a June election which returned President Mahmud Ahmadinejad to power.

But the new head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, is seen by analysts as a mild-mannered politician in favor of resolving the nuclear row through talks.

Qashqavi, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said the West should revise its approach towards Iran and "try to resort to interaction instead of sanctions." He said such punitive measures could not stop Iran's nuclear activities.