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Inspectors hope for Parchin access in Iran visit

VIENNA (AFP)— The UN atomic agency's chief inspector said he hopes Iran will grant his team access to the Parchin military base during talks in Tehran on Thursday.

"We also hope that Iran will allow us to go the site of Parchin, and if Iran would grant us access we would welcome that chance and we are ready to go," Herman Nackaerts told reporters at Vienna airport on Wednesday on his way to Tehran for the meeting.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says it has evidence suggesting Iran conducted explosives research at Parchin that would be applicable in making nuclear weapons.

Iran denies seeking or ever having sought nuclear weapons and has denied the IAEA access to Parchin, saying that as a non-nuclear site the agency has no right to conduct inspections there.

Tehran also says that the IAEA has already visited the site near Tehran twice, both times in 2005. The agency counters that since then, it has received additional information about work there that makes it want to go back.

The IAEA says "extensive activities" have been spotted by satellite at Parchin, such as the scraping and removal of earth over a 25-hectare (62-acre) area, leading to Western accusations that Iran is destroying evidence.

The alleged nuclear work at Parchin is part of a range of suspected activities summarised in a major IAEA report released in November 2011.

The report said the alleged evidence was "overall, credible" and that it indicated that until 2003, and possibly since, Iran carried out work "relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device".

Because the bulk of the information in the report comes from foreign intelligence agencies, Iran has said it is either forged or related to non-nuclear work.

Thursday's meeting between Nackaerts' team and Iranian officials is the latest in a string of fruitless talks this year between the Iranians and the IAEA, which has pressed Iran to address the claims and grant access to Parchin and other sites and individuals.

The United States has warned that it will push for the board of the Vienna-based agency to refer Iran to the UN Security Council if Tehran displays no "substantive cooperation" by an IAEA board meeting in March.

Watching the talks closely will be six major powers keen to restart diplomatic efforts to resolve the decade-long and escalating crisis over Iran's nuclear programme.

Those efforts are focused more on Iran's current activities, in particular its expanding ability uranium enrichment to fissile purities of 20 percent.

This is close to the level needed for a weapon but which Tehran says is for nuclear medicines. Multiple UN Security Council resolutions have called on Iran to suspend all enrichment.

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Iran says it can make copy of captured CIA drone

By By ALI AKBAR DAREINI, Associated Press – 18 hours ago

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran is now capable of manufacturing its own copies of an advanced CIA spy drone captured last year, a senior Iranian lawmaker said Wednesday.

Avaz Heidarpour, a member of the parliament's national security committee, said experts have reverse-engineered the RQ-170 Sentinel drone, and Iran now is capable of launching a production line for the unmanned aircraft.

"Iranian experts examined and analyzed the RQ-170 drone. Its parts were brought down so that all files and boards of the drone were copied and used to improve Iran's unmanned aircraft," he told the parliament's website, icana.ir, on Wednesday.

Heidarpour said production of RQ-170 drone cost the U.S. around $20 billion, but the expensive technology is now in Iran's possession through reverse engineering.

The Sentinel went down in December. Iran claimed it took control of it and landed it, but U.S. officials said the drone malfunctioned and had to land. They eventually confirmed the plane was monitoring Iran's military and nuclear facilities. Washington asked for it back, but Iran refused, and instead released photos of Iranian officials studying the aircraft.

Iranian officials said the data recovered from the drone showed it did not carry out any missions on Iran's nuclear facilities.

Iranian officials frequently announce technological and military breakthroughs, most of which are impossible to confirm independently.

Iranian Deputy Minister of Science, Research and Technology Mohammad Mahdinejad said last week that Iran is now exporting its domestically manufactured drones to several countries, including Syria and Venezuela.

Mahdinejad said Iran is now a global leader in drone technology and that its export of drones to other countries demonstrated of Iran's advanced capability in designing and operating unmanned aircrafts.

Heidarpour's comment came two days after Iran's Revolutionary Guard said it decoded all data from the drone that went down near Iran's eastern border with Afghanistan.

Tehran had previously said it recovered information from the top-secret stealth aircraft, but Guard's announcement suggested that technicians may have broken encryptions.

Last week, the Guard claimed it captured another U.S. drone after it entered Iranian airspace over the Persian Gulf, showing an image of what it said was a Boeing-designed ScanEagle drone on state TV.

The ScanEagle is a small, relatively simple drone. The U.S. has said none of its drones were missing, but one or more might have fallen into the sea over the past months.

The Islamic Republic has been trumpeting its possession of the drones in an attempt to embarrass Washington over its alleged surveillance of Iran's disputed nuclear program.

Guard commanders said Iran had previously acquired a ScanEagle drone and produced a copy of it, but they have not provided evidence to back up their claim.

Last month, Tehran claimed that a U.S. drone violated its airspace. The Pentagon said an unmanned Predator aircraft came under fire at least twice while flying over international waters, but it was not hit.