IAEA official arrives in Tehran to probe nuclear weapons claims

International Atomic Energy Agency Olli HeinonenTeheran - Deputy head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Olli Heinonen arrived in Tehran early on Monday to talk with Iranian officials about nuclear weapons claims provided to the agency.

During his two-day stay in Iran, Heinonen, who is the head of an IAEA unit that investigates whether countries have secret nuclear programmes, will probe whether the Islamic country has special weapons studies.

IAEA General Secretary Mohammed ElBaradei said on Thursday a delegation from the UN nuclear watchdog would visit Iran to probe whether it had a special weapons system.

An unnamed Iranian official, in an interview with state news agency IRNA on Monday, did not rule out talks over the weapons claims and said holding such negotiations shows Iran's good will in its nuclear row with the West.

But Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini on Sunday played down the claims about alleged "weaponisation studies" and said Heinonen's visit was within the framework of Tehran-IAEA cooperation.

"These are baseless and unfounded allegations. We have presented our evaluation to the agency regarding the alleged studies," Hosseini said in a news conference in Tehran.

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei circulated a progress report on an the investigation into Iran's nuclear programme last February, saying that open questions remained on alleged weaponization studies, including high explosives testing, the uranium refining processing stage known as "green salt," and the design of a missile re-entry vehicle.

The West fears that Iran seeks atomic weapons. Tehran denies this, saying its nuclear programme is peaceful and aimed at generating electricity.

The United Nations Security Council has already issued three resolutions against Iran, including sanctions, for defying the suspension of its nuclear programmes, especially the uranium enrichment process. (dpa)

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