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Iran says atom cooperation to prove West wrong

TEHRAN - Iran told the visiting head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog that Tehran's cooperation in clarifying the scope of its atomic work will show the West is wrong in accusing the Islamic state of having military aims.

"Iran insists on its obvious right to nuclear technology," chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili told International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei on Saturday.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (L) shakes hands with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed Elbaradei during an official meeting in Tehran January 12, 2008. (REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl)

"Clarifying Iran's nuclear activities ... will show that (they) are peaceful and that their (the West's) claims about these activities were baseless," the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying.

ElBaradei met Jalili and other Iranian leaders to push for swifter cooperation in resolving questions about Tehran's atomic activity, which the West fears will be used to make warheads.

He also held talks with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and will, for the first time, meet Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on nuclear policy.

A senior Iranian official said on Friday the meeting with Khamenei would involve an "important exchange of information". He did not elaborate.

The IAEA chief, seeking to defuse a standoff that has helped send oil prices to record levels and sparked fears of a military confrontation, is expected to hold a news conference before returning to Vienna early on Sunday morning.


His two-day trip to Tehran, which began on Friday, coincides with renewed tension between Iran and the United States over a naval incident in the oil-rich Gulf last Sunday.

Washington is seeking to isolate Iran over atomic activities it suspects have military aims. Iran says it only wants to generate electricity and has refused to heed demands to halt sensitive nuclear work despite two rounds of U.N. sanctions.

The IAEA has sought to verify that Iran's uranium enrichment programme is geared solely to producing civilian energy.

A diplomat close to the IAEA said before ElBaradei's visit that an agency inquiry stonewalled by Iran for years until August had entered a final phase with Iran addressing U.S. intelligence about past attempts to "weaponise" atomic material.

Iran said in August it would answer outstanding questions about its nuclear past but an end-of-year target for completing the process passed with the sensitive issues still unresolved.

Ahmadinejad, who has taken a hardline stand in the nuclear row, told ElBaradei he hoped the work of the IAEA would not be affected by "the pressure of big powers", Fars News Agency said.

"Some countries think that the IAEA has been founded to implement their policies. Iran recognises the agency as the only party to discuss Iran's nuclear issue," Ahmadinejad said.

ElBaradei's visit coincides with a Middle East tour by U.S. President George W. Bush, who has called Iran a "threat to world peace" and is seeking Arab support to rein in Iran.

In Washington on Friday, the top U.S. military officer said last Sunday's encounter between U.S. Navy ships and Iranian boats in the Gulf showed Iran posed a threat and that the United States was ready to counter it.

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