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U.S. challenges Iran on inspection of suspected nuclear site by U.N.

A U.S. envoy challenged Iran on Tuesday to disprove suspicions that it had worked to develop nuclear arms by throwing open a military site to U.N. inspection. He also urged Tehran to curb uranium enrichment, noting that -- with further work -- the material it has already amassed would be enough for use in several atomic bombs.

Robert A. Wood spoke to the 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency as it turned its attention to Iran's nuclear program and to concerns that it could be turned into making weapons -- a fear that has generated threats of military action from both Israel and the United States if diplomacy fails to persuade Tehran to compromise.

The IAEA late last month showed board members satellite photos that its officials and diplomats said seemed to show Iran moving earth and hosing down the insides of a building at its Parchin military site, southeast of Tehran. That, they said, has strengthened suspicions that Tehran is trying to cleanse the area of evidence of secret work on high explosives used to set off a nuclear device.

Tehran has strenuously denied doing such experiments while refusing to let IAEA experts visit the facility for more than three months. Wood on Tuesday questioned its alleged actions and motives, saying, "If Iran has nothing to hide, why deny the agency access and carry out these apparent cleanup efforts?"

Uranium enrichment is another concern. Tehran insists that it has no nuclear arms aspirations, asserting that its program is geared only toward powering reactors and medical research. But international concerns are high because enriched uranium can arm nuclear warheads as well as make material for nuclear fuel. The Islamic Republic has refused offers of nuclear fuel from abroad, further fuelling concern.

Beyond enrichment, IAEA suspicions that Iran has worked secretly to develop nuclear weapons are adding to fears about its nuclear intentions. Iran has denied such activity.

The comments by Wood, the chief U.S. representative to the IAEA, came ahead of renewed twin-pronged efforts to persuade Iran to relent. Later this month in Moscow, six world powers will try to convince Iran to stop enriching to higher levels that could be quickly turned into weapons-grade uranium at its Fordo site, which is dug into a mountain and fortified against aerial attack.

Before that, IAEA representatives plan to meet with an Iranian envoy in Vienna on Friday in attempts to prod Iran into agreeing to reopen the agency's probe into the alleged secret weapons work.