UN nuclear experts tackle Iran on arms allegations

TEHRAN (AFP) - The United Nations nuclear agency and Tehran met on Saturday for talks on allegations of past Iranian weapons work and to seek additional safeguards to allay international concerns over its nuclear ambitions.

The meeting came as the Islamic republic's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, demanded tolerance from critics of President Hassan Rouhani ahead of fresh talks with world powers.

Negotiations between Iran and the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are building on a framework deal agreed in November that required Tehran to take six practical steps by next Tuesday.

Chief inspector Tero Varjoranta and four experts are assessing the implementation of those measures, Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said.

A morning meeting was "satisfactory," Mr Kamalvandi said, without giving further details, in remarks reported by the state broadcaster on its website.

There were no immediate comments from the IAEA, but Iranian media said the talks could extend into Sunday if there is major progress.

As an afternoon meeting was underway, at which allegations of "possible military dimensions" to Iran's past nuclear activities could be broached, state news agency IRNA reported.

IAEA director general Yukiya Amano told AFP last month that time is now ripe to ask the "more difficult" questions.

"We certainly wish to include issues with 'possible military dimensions' in future steps," said Mr Amano.

How long this takes "very much depends on Iran. It can be quick or it can be long. It really depends on their cooperation."

Another issue to be discussed is access to the Parchin military facility, suspected of having been used for research pertaining to weapons development.

The November deal, struck after two years of on-off talks, was separate from a landmark agreement reached with world powers the same month that has placed temporary curbs on Iran's nuclear activities.

Implementation of the IAEA deal began in December, when inspectors visited Arak, where the small unfinished heavy water reactor has been hit by delays.

The site is of international concern because Tehran could theoretically extract weapons-grade plutonium from spent fuel if it also builds a reprocessing facility.

Iran's atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi said this week the reactor could be modified to produce less plutonium to "allay the worries." The second step is to visit the Gachin uranium mine, which has yet to be arranged but must take place before the Tuesday deadline.

Also required is information on future research reactors, identifying sites of new nuclear power plants, and clarification on Iranian statements regarding additional enrichment facilities and laser enrichment technology.