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Iran said ready to discuss nuclear claims

VIENNA -- A senior UN nuclear agency team will visit Tehran on Jan. 28 with Iran saying it is ready after years of refusal to discuss allegations that it is involved in secret nuclear weapons work, diplomats said yesterday.

Diplomats have previously said International Atomic Energy Agency officials were discussing such a trip with their Iranian counterparts. But before yesterday, no date -- or even an indication that Iran was ready to talk about the allegations -- had been mentioned. Any follow-through on the part of Iran on its reported pledge to discuss nuclear arms suspicions would be significant.

For more than three years, Tehran has blocked IAEA attempts to follow up on U.S. and other intelligence alleging covert Iranian work on nuclear arms, dismissing the charges as baseless and insisting all its nuclear activities were peaceful and under IAEA purview.

Faced with Iranian stonewalling, the IAEA summarized its body of information in November in a 13-page document drawing on 1,000 pages of intelligence. It stated that some of the alleged experiments can have no other purpose than developing nuclear weapons.

Iran continues to deny the charges and no change in its position is expected during the Tehran talks with IAEA officials. But even a decision to enter a discussion over the allegations would be a major departure from outright refusal to talk about them -- and create hopes of future progress in the investigation.

Beyond the dispute over Iran's nuclear intentions, U.S.-Iranian relations have been further burdened by an Iranian announcement that a joint U.S.-Iranian national will be executed after being found guilty of spying -- a charge both he and Washington deny.

Iran, in turn, sees possible U.S. complicity in a series of assassinations of its nuclear experts -- the latest on Wednesday, when scientist Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan was killed by a bomb attached to his car by a passing bicyclist.

In a letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday, Iran's UN Ambassador Mohammad Khazaee called on the UN to condemn the killing and two earlier attacks that left two nuclear scientists dead and another seriously injured.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton denied any U.S. role in the slaying and the Obama administration condemned the attacks. Israeli officials, in contrast, have hinted at covert campaigns against Iran without directly admitting involvement.

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