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. UN nuclear chief presses Iran leaders on cooperation
TEHRAN, Jan 12 (AFP) Jan 12, 2008
UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei on Saturday met Iranian leaders on a visit aimed at persuading Tehran to intensify cooperation with his agency over its disputed nuclear programme.

ElBaradei the day earlier had pressed top Iranian nuclear officials to provide swifter answers to questions about areas of ambiguity in the history of its atomic drive, which the West fears could be used to make the bomb.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director general, on his first trip to Iran for one and a half years, held talks on Saturday morning with Iran's hardline top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, state media reported.

He then went into a meeting with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has vowed that Iran will never give the slightest concession in its nuclear standoff with the West.

ElBaradei was later scheduled to have his first ever meeting with Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a rarity for any visiting head of an international organisation, officials said.

In talks on Friday with the head of the Iranian atomic energy organisation, Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, ElBaradei urged Tehran to be quicker in answering the IAEA's questions about remaining areas of doubt in its atomic drive.

"We had a friendly and frank exchange of views about enhanced cooperation between Iran and the IAEA and how to clarify the outstanding issues," he told reporters at a joint news conference.

"I discussed with Mr Aghazadeh how we can work together and accelerate the pace of our cooperation to clarify all outstanding issues before my report (to the IAEA board of governors) in March," ElBaradei said.

Jalili, a close ally of Ahmadinejad who replaced the more moderate Ali Larijani in October, told ElBaradei that Iran would continue to insist on its right to nuclear technology.

"We need to find an appropriate means to normalise the current situation and we need to take as the basic principle that Iran is not an exception," Jalili said.

Despite a four-year probe into Tehran's atomic drive, the IAEA has never been able to confirm whether the programme is peaceful. The aim of its cooperation with Tehran is to finally draw this investigation to a conclusion.

The United States is maintaining pressure for a third set of UN Security Council sanctions to punish Iran's nuclear defiance, but Tehran is hoping its cooperation with the agency will stave off further punitive measures.

As part of a cooperation deal agreed in August, Iran and the IAEA have already held talks over three areas of past doubts -- uranium particle contamination, Iran's past experiments with plutonium, and its use of uranium-enriching P1 and P2 centrifuges.

Vienna-based diplomats said talks would now turn to the possible military use of Iran's nuclear technology, the last and possibly most significant item on the list.

A US intelligence report appears to have momentarily taken the heat out of the atomic crisis, but Washington still wants the UN Security Council to adopt a new set of sanctions.

The report said Iran halted a nuclear weapons programme in 2003, undermining repeated accusations from US President George W. Bush that Tehran was actively seeking the atomic bomb.

World powers have repeatedly called on Iran to freeze uranium enrichment -- which can be used both to make atomic fuel and a bomb -- but Iran has insisted its programme is peaceful and that it has the right to the full fuel cycle.

ElBaradei last visited Iran in April 2006, when he notably failed to win any concession from Tehran over the question of enrichment.

His latest trip to Iran coincided with a major visit to Israel and US Arab allies by Bush, who this week declared his belief that "Iran is a threat to world peace."

Even after the release of the intelligence report, the enmity between the two foes was made clear when Washington accused Tehran of harassing its ships in the Strait of Hormuz entrance to the Gulf last week.

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