* Senior IAEA team to hold Jan. 29-31 talks in Tehran
* Will seek answers about nuclear weapons suspicions
* Iran says ready for dialogue; Western diplomats sceptical
By Fredrik Dahl
VIENNA, Jan 28 Senior United Nations
nuclear inspectors headed to Tehran on Saturday to press Iranian
officials to address suspicions that the Islamic state is
seeking atomic weapons.
The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency hopes Iran,
which has indicated readiness to discuss the issue for the first
time since 2008, will end years of stonewalling on intelligence
pointing to an intention to develop nuclear arms technology.
"We are trying ... to resolve all the outstanding
issues with Iran, in particular we hope that Iran will engage
with us on our concerns regarding the possible military
dimensions of Iran's nuclear programme," IAEA Deputy Director
General Herman Nackaerts told reporters as he prepared to depart
from Vienna airport.
But Western diplomats, who have often accused Iran of using
such offers of dialogue as a stalling tactic while it presses
ahead with its nuclear programme, say they doubt Tehran will
show the kind of concrete cooperation the IAEA wants.
They say Iran may offer limited concessions and transparency
in an attempt to ease intensifying international pressure on the
country, a major oil producer, but that this is unlikely to
amount to the full cooperation that is required.
The outcome could determine whether Iran will face further
international isolation, or whether there are prospects for
resuming wider talks between Tehran and the major powers on the
nuclear dispute that has sparked fears of war.
The United States and its allies suspect the programme has
military aims but Tehran says is for peaceful electricity
"The chances of the IAEA's success may depend on how badly
Iran wants to avoid harder sanctions," said nuclear expert Mark
Hibbs of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Remarks by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's top
adviser on international affairs on Saturday suggested Iran was
not in the mood for concessions.
"Iran's stance towards its nuclear issue has not changed in
term of fundamentals and principles," Ali Akbar Velayati said,
according to the ISNA news agency.
"One important principle is that Iran would not relinquish
or withdraw from its peaceful nuclear activities."
The six-member IAEA team of senior officials and experts,
headed by Nackaerts, was due to arrive in Tehran early on
The three day visit comes at a time of soaring tension
between Iran and the West. The IAEA issued a report in November
with details of suspected research and development activities in
Iran relevant to nuclear weapons.
The West has seized on the report to ratchet up sanctions
aimed at Iran's lifeblood oil exports. Iran hit back on Friday
warning it may halt oil exports to Europe next week
"APPEARING TO COOPERATE"
The IAEA team is expected to seek explanations to the issues
raised in the report, including information that Iran appears to
have worked on a nuclear weapon design, and demand access to
sites, officials and documents relevant to the agency's probe.
The IAEA says Iran, which has rejected the allegations as
forged and baseless, has not engaged with the agency in a
substantive way on these issues since August 2008 and that it
keeps receiving intelligence data adding to its concerns.
"There were a huge number of questions raised by the
November report. They will be seeking to answer those questions,
and it's incumbent on Iran to be supportive," U.S. State
Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said this week.
IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano has called on Iran to
show a "constructive spirit" in the meeting and Iran has said it
is willing to discuss "any issues" of interest to the U.N.
agency, including the military-linked concerns.
Iran's Press TV state television said on its website the
IAEA visit was aimed at bolstering cooperation between the two
sides "by resolving ambiguities", language Tehran has also used
in the past.
The English-language station cited Iran's envoy to the IAEA,
Ali Asghar Soltanieh, as saying the main objective was to
"thwart plots by enemies who are levelling unfounded
allegations" against Iran and to prove its nuclear transparency.
Hibbs said Amano would want to see a "significant step" from
Iran, for example by agreeing to more intrusive IAEA inspections
or by explaining issues related to the weapons suspicions.
"I'm not very optimistic," Hibbs said. "Iran's track record
is of appearing to cooperate whenever they are threatened by
(Additional reporting by Hashem Kalantari in Tehran; Editing by