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U.N. nuclear watchdog dismisses Iranian offer of site access

VIENNA (Reuters) - The U.N. atomic watchdog dismissed on Thursday an Iranian offer of access to a region where explosives experiments of possible use in nuclear weapons development may have taken place, saying this did not address its concerns.

Iran told a board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency last month it would let IAEA inspectors visit the western Marivan area to prove that suspicions it had carried out atomic bomb research were wrong and baseless.

However, the IAEA’s main priority for its long-stalled investigation into Iran’s nuclear program has been to go to another location, the Parchin military base southeast of Tehran, where the Vienna-based agency says other nuclear-related explosives tests may have been conducted, perhaps a decade ago.

Then Islamic Republic has so far refused access to Parchin, saying it is a conventional military facility.

The IAEA has raised with Iran the U.N. agency’s “specific concerns related to the issue of large-scale high-explosive experiments over the past three years”, IAEA Communications Director Serge Gas said in an email.

However, the IAEA has “explained clearly to Iran – on more than one occasion – that an offer of a visit of Marivan does not help address specific concerns related to the issue of large- scale high explosive experiments,” he said, without elaborating.

Western officials say Iran must step up cooperation with the IAEA’s inquiry into allegations that it has worked on designing a nuclear bomb to help foster a wider diplomatic deal which Tehran and six world powers are aiming to reach by mid-2015.

At last month’s IAEA board meeting, Iran’s envoy said suspicions of illicit nuclear related activity were based on “wrong and fabricated” information provided by a few member states, an apparent reference to Israel and the United States.

To prove them wrong, Ambassador Reza Najafi said Iran would be ready to give the IAEA “one managed access” to Marivan, a region mentioned in an IAEA report in 2011 on suspected activities that could be relevant for developing nuclear bombs.

Najafi repeated the offer on Thursday. “We want to show that the claims are baseless,” he told reporters. “We are waiting to provide such access.”

The 2011 report cited information from one member state - not identified - as indicating that major high-explosives tests were conducted in Marivan a decade ago.

Reporting by Fredrik Dahl; Editing by Mark Heinrich