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Iran atom chief starts 11th-hour talks at IAEA

Written by: Staff
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VIENNA, Apr 26 (Reuters) Iran's nuclear energy chief began 11th-hour talks at the International Atomic Energy Agency today but the move looked too late to decisively alter an imminent IAEA report to the U.N. Security Council.

Gholamreza Aghazadeh arrived at the agency's Vienna complex alongside Iran's envoy to the IAEA Ali-Asghar Soltanieh and Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation. The delegation passed reporters without speaking.

The talks begin just two weeks after IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, in a rare visit to Tehran, was rebuffed in requests that Iran ''pause'' its uranium enrichment drive and address world doubt about its nuclear aims.

Western powers suspect Iran's professed goal to generate nuclear energy for its economy is a smokescreen for a covert atomic bomb project. But the Security Council is deeply split over whether and how fast to pursue sanctions against Iran.

A war of words between Iran and the West has bubbled in the countdown to ElBaradei's report, due on Friday and widely expected to judge Iran to have ignored a 30-day deadline set by the Council on March 29 to suspend all enrichment-related work.

Aghazadeh was to meet ElBaradei's deputy for nuclear safeguards, Olli Heinonen, in the afternoon. Last week, Heinonen cancelled a pre-report factfinding trip to Iran after concluding he would only be stonewalled once again by the Iranians.

A Vienna-based diplomat close to IAEA operations in Iran said Heinonen agreed to receive Aghazadeh in a fresh bid for headway on questions about Tehran's nuclear behaviour still outstanding after three years of IAEA probing.

''But whatever he tells us at this late stage, there would be no time for inspectors to check and verify it before the report comes out,'' the diplomat said, asking not to be named in exchange for discussing the confidential meeting.

''All ElBaradei can do is note any information received and say he could not assess whether it was significant.'' More Reuters DKS DB2006

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