Iran won't accept nuclear restraints 'beyond IAEA rules'

TEHERAN (AFP) - Iran will reject any restraints on its nuclear operations outside the international rules set by the industry watchdog, President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday.

"We will only accept the legal controls of the IAEA within the framework of the Non-Proliferation Treaty," the president said during a visit by International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano.

"Any monitoring beyond those rules would be a precedent, against the interests of all developing countries," Mr Rouhani said.

Mr Amano made a lightning one-day visit to Teheran ahead of an Aug 25 deadline for Iran to answer decade-old allegations of past nuclear weapons research.

He held morning talks with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif before meeting Mr Rouhani, Iran's official IRNA news agency reported.

Mr Zarif stressed the "wish of the Islamic Republic of Iran to co-operate with the IAEA, the sole international body with authority in nuclear matters".

The IAEA chief was also scheduled to meet Mr Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation.

As part of the implementation of the interim deal it struck with world powers last November, Iran handed the IAEA documents in April and May relating to its past research, the first time it had done so in six years.

Mr Amano welcomed the move but warned in June that the information would take time to assess and that the IAEA had further questions about the research, most of which was conducted more than a decade ago.

Addressing the 2003 allegations, long denied by Teheran, would be an important element in the comprehensive deal on Iran's nuclear programme that world powers are seeking to reach by Nov 24.

Mr Amano told Mr Rouhani on Sunday he hoped "cooperation will continue in this more constructive atmosphere". "The agency's aim is to move forward step by step to resolve the outstanding issues," state television quoted him as saying. "It has no wish to drag out the process."

Mr Rouhani said: "Weapons of mass destruction have no place in (Iran's) defence strategy." He wants the IAEA to play a more active role in order to show the transparency of the Iranian nuclear programme.

He hoped that talks with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, known as P5+1, would "give the Iranian people and parliament the necessary confidence to continue discussions".

"Iran is serious in its negotiations with the P5+1 group and wants nothing beyond its rights, especially concerning enrichment of uranium for peaceful aims," Mr Rouhani said, adding however, that "Iran's ballistic capability is not negotiable at any level", as the United States is seeking.

Iran says that its research into sophisticated explosive detonators, which can be used to set off a nuclear warhead but also have other applications, is for peaceful civilian ends.

"Iran showed information to the agency that simultaneous firing of EBW (Explosive Bridge Wire detonators) was tested for a civilian application," Mr Amano said in a May report.

The research is one of a dozen alleged "possible military dimensions" to Iran's nuclear programme that the UN watchdog has been investigating for years.

Iran has always dismissed the allegations as being based on hostile intelligence provided by the US Central Intelligence Agency and Israel's Mossad and had long refused to give them a reply.

Iran denies seeking or ever having sought to develop nuclear weapons, insisting that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes only.

Mr Amano's visit comes ahead of a new round of talks between Teheran and the major powers expected before the UN General Assembly starts on Sept 16.

The talks are aimed at securing a historic accord under which Iran scales back its nuclear activities to allay Western concerns about its ambitions.

In return, Iran would be granted relief from painful Western sanctions.

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