UN nuclear chief expected to visit Iran next week -state TV

Reuters

* No initial IAEA comment on report of Amano trip to Tehran

* Would be his first since unsuccessful talks in May 2012

* Hints at progress in probe into alleged atomic bomb work

By Yeganeh Torbati and Fredrik Dahl

LONDON/VIENNA, Nov 5 (Reuters) - U.N. nuclear agency chiefYukiya Amano is expected to visit Tehran on Nov. 11, Iranianstate television said on Tuesday, a possible sign of progress ina long-stalled investigation into suspected nuclear armsresearch by Tehran.

After years of worsening confrontation with the West, Iranhas switched to a conciliatory mode - entailing diplomacy insearch of a peaceful solution to its disputed nuclear activity -since the June election of moderate President Hassan Rouhani.

The International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran have held aseries of fruitless meetings since early 2012 to agree groundrules for the IAEA's inquiry, but hopes for a breakthrough havebeen lifted by Rouhani's rise.

The Islamic Republic denies seeking nuclear weapons, sayingit wants only civilian atomic energy.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's atomic energyorganisation, said he hoped the two sides would reach anagreement during Amano's visit, state television said on its website, without giving details.

There was no immediate comment from the IAEA, which wantsaccess to sites, officials and documents in Iran, including theParchin military base where it believes nuclear-relatedexplosives tests might have taken place, possibly a decade ago.

The IAEA's discussions with Iran are separate from broadernegotiations between Tehran and six world powers that resumed inGeneva last month and will continue there on Nov. 7 and 8.

But both diplomatic tracks centre on suspicions that Iranmay be seeking the capability to make nuclear weapons.

If Amano's trip is confirmed, it would be his first visit tothe Iranian capital since May 2012. That time, he returnedsaying he expected to sign a deal with Iran soon to unblock theagency's investigation, only to see it fail to materialize.

NEW ERA?

Rouhani has improved the diplomatic atmosphere since then,however, promising to try to resolve a decade-old internationalstalemate over Iran's nuclear programme and secure an easing ofsanctions severely damaging its oil-dependent economy.

Iran says it is refining uranium only to fuel future nuclearpower plants and an existing medical research reactor. But itsrefusal so far to curb sensitive nuclear work and lack oftransparency with the IAEA have drawn harsh sanctions.

After talks last week between senior IAEA and Iranianofficials in Vienna, described by both sides as "veryproductive", a new round was set for Nov. 11 in Tehran, butwithout any word on Amano possibly taking part.

Salehi said he had invited Amano to visit on that day andthat the IAEA director-general had expressed his "inclination"to do so, state television said.

Salehi said he hoped that "we will reach an agreement inthis trip" with the head of the Vienna-based U.N. agency and"issue a joint statement".

"The International Atomic Energy Agency has moved forwardwith a positive approach and as before we will continue tocollaborate in a transparent manner and we are more than everready to cooperate with the agency," Salehi told reporters onTuesday, according to the state news agency IRNA.

Iran said in last week's meeting in Vienna, where the IAEAis based, that it had put forward new proposals to the U.N.agency. A diplomatic source described the Iranian ideas as"potential confidence-building" measures but did not elaborate.

Western experts say that Iran will probably only agree tofully cooperate with the IAEA's investigation as part of abroader settlement with the United States, France, Russia,China, Britain and Germany that wins it sanctions relief.

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