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Iran insists on nuclear "right" ahead of IAEA talks

By Yeganeh Torbati

DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran voiced readiness on Tuesday to address concerns of U.N. nuclear inspectors about its atomic activities in talks this week but said its "right" to refine uranium should be part of any agreement.

The Islamic state's insistence that its uranium enrichment - work which can have both military and civilian purposes - should be recognized may further dampen expectations among Western diplomats of any major progress in Thursday's talks.

The meeting in Tehran could provide clues as to whether Iran may now be more willing to help allay international suspicions over its disputed nuclear programme following U.S. President Barack Obama's re-election last month.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) hopes to reach a deal that would enable it to resume a long-stalled investigation into suspected past atomic bomb research, and possibly still ongoing, in Iran.

Ramin Mehmanparast, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Iran was ready to take action to resolve possible concerns of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Iran's ISNA news agency reported.

But, he said, any deals with the agency "should be complete agreements in which Iran's right to enjoy nuclear science, including having the fuel cycle and enrichment for peaceful nuclear activities, exists.

"How this framework should be defined and how we should reach an agreement will be discussed by experts from the two sides in this meeting," ISNA quoted him as saying.

Iran has also previously demanded that its nuclear "rights" be recognized, but it has usually done this in separate talks with world powers involved in diplomatic efforts to resolve the decade-old nuclear dispute peacefully.

The United States says Iran does not automatically have the right to refine uranium under international law because, it argues, Tehran is in violation of its obligations under counter-proliferation safeguards.

Enriched uranium can fuel nuclear power plants, Iran's declared aim, but also provide material for bombs if refined further, which the West suspects is Tehran's ultimate ambition.

The United Nations Security Council has in a series of resolutions since 2006 demanded that Iran suspend enrichment, something Tehran has repeatedly rejected.

EXPLOSIVES TESTS

Western diplomats say they are not optimistic about the chances of a breakthrough in this week's discussions, after a series of meetings between Iran and the IAEA since January failed to make headway.

But they don't rule out that Iran, under tightening Western sanctions hurting its oil-dependent economy, will try to offer some concessions in an attempt to ease international pressure.

The IAEA wants Iran to allow its inspectors to visit sites, interview officials and study documents as part of an inquiry - largely stymied by Iranian stonewalling for four years - into possible military dimensions to the country's nuclear programme.

The IAEA's priority is to examine the sprawling Parchin military complex southeast of Tehran, where it believes Iran has carried out explosives tests with nuclear applications.

Iran, which rejects accusations of a covert bid to develop the means and technologies needed to develop nuclear arms, says it must first reach a framework agreement with the IAEA on how the inquiry should be done before providing any such access.

Nuclear expert Mark Hibbs said it was "highly unlikely" that Tehran would agree already this week to a visit to Parchin, which Western diplomats say Iran has tried to cleanse of any evidence of illicit nuclear-related experiments.

"It is possible that Tehran will only cooperate with the IAEA after it has scrubbed Parchin clean," Hibbs, of the Carnegie Endowment think-tank, said.

Iran says Parchin is a conventional military facility and has dismissed allegations that it "sanitising" the site.

(Writing and additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl in Vienna, additional reporting by Zahra Hosseinian in Zurich)