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U.N. inspectors visit Iranian site linked to nuclear program

A general view of the Arak heavy-water project, 190 km (120 miles) southwest of Tehran January 15, 2011. REUTERS/ISNA/Hamid Forootan
A general view of the Arak heavy-water project, 190 km (120 miles) southwest of Tehran January 15, 2011. REUTERS/ISNA/Hamid Forootan

DUBAI (Reuters) - U.N. inspectors visited an Iranian plant on Sunday linked to a planned heavy-water reactor that could yield nuclear bomb fuel, taking up an initial offer by Tehran to open its disputed nuclear program to greater scrutiny.

The increased transparency is the result of a thaw in relations between Iran and the West that culminated in a deal struck last month under which Tehran is to curb its nuclear program in return for some easing of sanctions.

It was the first time in more than two years that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had been allowed to go to the Arak heavy water production plant, which is designed to supply a research reactor under construction nearby.

Iran's heavy water work is a big concern for the West because it could be used in the process of making a nuclear bomb. Tehran says its program is for peaceful purposes.

Two inspectors arrived in Tehran on Saturday and met experts from Iran's own atomic energy agency before travelling to Arak in the evening, Iran's ISNA news agency reported.

"The inspection is under way and will be finished this afternoon, and they (the inspectors) will return to Tehran," said Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Iranian atomic energy agency. "The inspectors will go back to Vienna tonight."

The inspection is part of a deal between the IAEA and Tehran, separate from the November 24 interim nuclear accord reached between Iran and the so-called P5+1 in Geneva.

Officials from Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia are to meet on December 9-10 in Vienna, where the IAEA is based, for expert-level talks on implementing the Geneva deal.

Top Iranian negotiator Abbas Araqchi said negotiations at the foreign minister level would resume after January 2014, according to ISNA.

There is a "strong possibility" that the timing of another inspection, of the Gachin uranium mine in southern Iran, will also be discussed in Vienna this week, Kamalvandi told ISNA. The IAEA says it wants to visit Gchine to get a better understanding of Iran's nuclear program.

U.S. officials have said Washington might press Iran to dismantle part of the unfinished Arak nuclear reactor, but Kamalvandi said Tehran would not entertain such a demand.

"We won't accept getting into discussions about such issues. Iranian officials have repeated their stance over and over again: Iran's nuclear rights are non-negotiable," he said.

(Reporting by Isabel Coles; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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