U.N. nuclear agency trying again to visit Iran sites suspected of links to weapons program

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a message for the Iranian New Year in Tehran, Iran on March 20, 2012. AP Photo/Office of the Supreme Leader

Vienna A senior U.N. team is embarking on a new try to restart its probe into suspicions that Iran secretly worked on nuclear arms.

The International Atomic Energy Agency team is flying to Tehran and meeting with senior officials there. Team leader Herman Nackaerts says the IAEA hopes to "finalize the structured approach" that would outline what the agency can and cannot do in its investigation.

Nackaerts spoke Tuesday ahead of the departure of his IAEA squad. The U.N. nuclear watchdog agency has tried for more than a year to restart its stalled investigations into allegations that Iran worked on developing such weapons.

Tehran steadfastly denies any such activity and insists that any new agency investigation must be governed by an agreement that lays out the scope of such a probe.

A religious decree issued by Iran's supreme leader on Tuesday banning nuclear weapons is binding for the Iranian government, the Foreign Ministry said, suggesting that the edict should end the debate over whether Tehran is pursuing atomic arms.

Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said the West must understand the significance of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's edict for Iran: "There is nothing higher than the exalted supreme leader's fatwa to define the framework for our activities in the nuclear field."

"When the highest jurisprudent and authority in the country's leadership issues a fatwa, this will be binding for all of us to follow," he added.

Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters in Iran, said last year that Tehran is not seeking atomic arms. He called possessing such weapons a "sin" as well as "useless, harmful and dangerous."

Washington and its allies accuse Iran of using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop nuclear weapons. Iran has denied the charges, saying its program is peaceful and geared towards generating electricity and producing radioisotopes to cancer patients.

Mehmanparast said Iran is ready to clear up any questions through a deal with the IAEA. "If there are any ambiguities or concerns, we are ready to clear these ambiguities. This can be done under a structured approach," he said.

But Mehmanparast also criticized the U.N. agency, saying that Tehran answered all its questions in the past, but instead of giving Iran a clean bill of health, the agency leveled new allegations on the basis of "alleged studies" provided by Iran's enemies.

Iran uses that term to refer to a dispute at Parchin, a military site southeast of Tehran, where the agency suspects Iran ran explosive tests needed to set off a nuclear charge.

Iran says the agency's suspicions are based on forged intelligence from the United States, Israel and others.

Mehmanparast said there has to be an end to such allegations if Iran can reach a deal with the U.N.

"Obligations of the other party must be clearly specified. If a claim is to be raised on a spot in Iran every day and (the U.N. agency) seeks to visit our military facilities under such a pretext ... this issue will be unending," he said.

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