VIENNA Iran said on Tuesday it was open to discuss "any issues" in rare talks this month with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, which wants Tehran to address mounting concerns that it may be trying to develop nuclear weapons capability.
With the Islamic state facing intensifying sanctions aimed at its oil exports, a senior Iranian official said a high-level team from the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would hold three days of talks in Tehran from Jan 29-31.
The IAEA delegation, to be headed by Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts, is expected to seek explanations regarding intelligence information indicating Iran has engaged in research and development relevant for nuclear weapons.
It coincides with increased tension in the international row over Iranian nuclear work the United States and its allies suspect has military aims. Iran, a major oil producer, says it is aimed at generating electricity.
Western diplomats, who have often accused Iran of stalling tactics as it presses ahead with its nuclear program, have expressed doubt that the planned IAEA trip will lead to any major progress in the long-running nuclear dispute.
Asked whether Iranian officials would be ready to talk about
IAEA questions of possible military links to the nuclear program, Iran's IAEA envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh told Reuters:
"We are open to discuss any issues that the IAEA is interested to discuss, within the framework of its mandate of course ... I am optimistic that we will have a constructive, professional, technical meeting."
He did not say which Iranian officials would take part in the talks. There was no immediate comment from the IAEA.
Iran rejects accusations that it has coordinated efforts to process uranium, test high explosives and revamp a ballistic missile cone to accommodate a nuclear warhead.
While U.N. inspectors regularly monitor Iran's declared nuclear facilities, their movements are otherwise restricted, and the IAEA has complained for years of a lack of access to sites, equipment, documents and people relevant to its probe.
Iran says its nuclear work is purely peaceful, and has shown no sign of backing down in the face of international demands that it suspends its uranium enrichment program.
It has stoked Western suspicions by starting to enrich uranium deep inside a mountain at Fordow, stepping up protection of activity that can have both military and civilian purposes.
But its leadership has come under growing pressure since the IAEA reported in November that Tehran appeared to have worked on designing a nuclear weapon and that secret research to that end may be continuing.
Referring to the nuclear dispute, Soltanieh said the discussions with the IAEA team would be aimed at "removing the ambiguities and concluding all this seemingly endless process."
The IAEA visit showed Iran's "determination for cooperation and engagement with the IAEA in a constructive and transparent manner," the Iranian ambassador added.
Iranian officials have used similar language before, and Western diplomats say they remain skeptical about Iran's willingness to seriously answer the agency's questions.
The IAEA wants it "to be a substantive meeting where Iran is actually responding to the questions and not talking about how to respond to the questions in the future," one diplomat said.
"And I think Iran has no intention of responding substantively to the questions," the envoy added.
(Additional reporting by Zahra Hosseinian)