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. UN nuclear official in Iran for weapons talks
TEHRAN, April 21 (AFP) Apr 21, 2008
A top UN nuclear official held talks in Tehran on Monday seeking answers from Iran over claims it has studied how to design nuclear weapons, amid fury over his visit in the hardline Iranian press.

The visit by Olli Heinonen, the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) deputy director general, is aimed at pressing Iran over claims it has carried out so-called "weaponization studies", the Vienna-based watchdog has said.

He held an afternoon of talks with the deputy head of Iran's atomic energy organisation Mohammad Saeedi and its ambassador to the IAEA Ali Asghar Soltanieh, the official IRNA news agency reported.

However IRNA said that Iran's deputy national security chief Javad Vaeedi was "not present" at the talks, contrary to what official media had predicted ahead of the discussions. No reason was given for his absence.

The talks were to continue for a second and final day on Tuesday. No details over the content of the discussions were released.

In a sign of the sensitivity of the talks, Iran's leading hardline daily Kayhan launched a withering personal onslaught against Heinonen and his intentions.

"This trip is to complete a joint Israeli-US trick to provide phoney proof on Iran's nuclear activities," said an editorial signed by chief editor Hossein Shariatmadari, who is appointed by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In a closed-door briefing to diplomats at IAEA headquarters in Vienna on February 25, Heinonen presented detailed evidence suggesting that Iran could have been studying how to use its nuclear technology to make a warhead.

Western diplomats present at the meeting subsequently said the new evidence of alleged "weaponization studies" was troubling.

Iran, which insists its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful and aimed solely at generating energy, at the time furiously denounced the claims as fake.

"It is like a ridiculous play," fumed Kayhan.

"He (Heinonen) opened the first act at the (IAEA) board of governors, in a play written by Israel and directed by the United States.

"And now during his trip here he will perform the second act. What is surprising is why our officials agreed to his trip."

Some of the information is reported to have come from IAEA member states, including data from a laptop computer smuggled out of Tehran in an operation by Western intelligence in 2004.

Despite more than four years of intensive investigation, the IAEA has never been able to confirm that the nuclear drive is peaceful and bring its probe to a conclusion.

Iran has stuck to a conspicuously different characterisation of the visit than that of the IAEA, saying it is a routine trip as part of the cooperation between Tehran and the nuclear watchdog.

The official IRNA news agency quoted an informed Iranian source as saying that for Tehran the issue of the alleged weaponization studies is "finished" and its assessment has already been handed to the IAEA.

"Iran is doing this negotiation to show its goodwill," the source was quoted as saying.

Iran's refusal to suspend sensitive uranium enrichment operations -- which the West fears could be used to make a nuclear weapon -- has already led to three sets of UN Security Council sanctions against Tehran.

The weaponization studies alleged to have been used by Iran include a document on the casting and machining of uranium metal into the shape of warheads.

There are also schematic designs of a missile re-entry vehicle for its Shahab-3 longer range missile that in the opinion of the IAEA "is quite likely to be able to accommodate a nuclear device".

"There is a difference of opinion between Iran and the agency over the examination of the alleged studies. The talks will be focused on reaching a solution for examining this issue," the student ISNA news agency quoted an official as saying.

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