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UN inspectors arrive to quiz Iran nuclear scientists
21 Feb 2012

TEHRAN — Senior United Nations inspectors arrived in Iran yesterday to push for transparency about its disputed nuclear programme, a day after Tehran responded defiantly to tightened European Union sanctions by halting oil sales to British and French companies.

Iran denies Western allegations that it is covertly seeking the means to build nuclear weapons and has again vowed in recent weeks to make no nuclear retreat.

The five-member team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), led by Herman Nackaerts, planned two days of meetings in another effort to extract answers from Iran regarding intelligence suggesting its declared civilian nuclear programme is a facade for developing bombs.

Nackaerts said he wanted “concrete results”. His delegation was expected to seek to question Iranian nuclear scientists and visit the Parchin military base believed to have been used for high-explosive tests linked to nuclear warheads.

But Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi he told a local news agency the IAEA officials would not be going to any nuclear sites. “No. Their work has just begun,” he said.

Diplomats doubt the talks will bring a breakthrough.

The outcome of the discussions will have diplomatic repercussions because it could either deepen a stand-off that has stoked fears of war or provide scope to reduce tensions.

The EU enraged Tehran last month when it decided to slap a boycott on its oil from July 1. Iran threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, the main Gulf oil shipping lane, in retaliation and the U.S. signalled it would use force to keep it open.

The tension has put pressure on oil prices. Deputy Oil Minister Ahmad Qalebani suggested the Western crackdown would backfire, saying that in targeting Iranian oil the West had achieved only a surge in crude prices from $103 a barrel to $120, “and it will reach $150”. — Reuters.

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