Iran to allow questions on nuclear energy

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Iran is not prepared to bargain over its right to a nuclear programme but world powers will be able to raise any question they wish at upcoming talks, a senior Iranian official said.

"Once it comes to discussions, everybody is free to pose any questions they wish," Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's nuclear energy agency, told reporters at the UN atomic agency's annual meeting.

Iran and world powers seeking to resolve a standoff over Tehran's disputed nuclear programme will start talks on 1 October in what a senior US official described as an "important first step". Mr Salehi said: "We are hopeful that the dialogue to be held next month will pave the way further for the future."

In Vienna, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran's continued refusal of IAEA access to clarify intelligence material suggesting Iran illicitly researched how to design a nuclear weapon was unacceptable.



But he urged the UN Security Council to give his UN. watchdog more legal inspections authority to better prevent the spread of atomic bomb technology, not to rely on sanctions he said often did not work.



Mohamed ElBaradei's call was a clear reference to the case of Iran, which is expanding a declared civilian uranium enrichment programme without clarifying allegations of covert military dimensions to the activity.



But the chief US delegate, in contrast with ElBaradei's message, said any nuclear outlaws must face "serious consequences" at the Security Council, an allusion to the West's mooted option of harsher sanctions if the talks fizzle.

"Failure to impose meaningful consequences puts at risk everything we have achieved (with non-proliferation rules). We cannot let this happen," said US Energy Secretary Steven Chu.



Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday the time had come for tougher sanctions against Iran.



"If not now then when? These harsh sanctions can be effective," Netanyahu was quoted by a parliamentary official as telling a legislative committee. Israel, Iran's arch enemy, is widely believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal.



Netanyahu's comments seemed to signal that it had not written off international diplomacy to curb Tehran's atomic ambitions, despite much speculation that the Jewish state could opt for last-ditch air strikes on Iran's nuclear sites.









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