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Iran Says UN Nuclear Team to Visit This Month for Talks

Iranian oil technician Majid Afshari makes his way at the oil separator facilities in Azadegan oil field, near Ahvaz, Iran, (File).

Iranian oil technician Majid Afshari makes his way at the oil separator facilities in Azadegan oil field, near Ahvaz, Iran, (File).

Iran says senior U.N. nuclear officials will travel to the country later this month to discuss their concerns about Tehran's nuclear program.

The Iranian envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said Tuesday the U.N. delegation will visit from January 29 to 31 for talks on topics "of interest" to the agency. He said Tehran's agreement to host the IAEA team is a "sign of transparency" in Iran's nuclear activities and engagement with the United Nations.

The U.N. nuclear agency issued a report last November saying it has evidence suggesting Iran has been researching the development and delivery of nuclear weapons. Iran says the report is based on fabrications, saying its nuclear program is only for peaceful use.

Western powers also have expressed concern about Iran's recent launch of an underground uranium enrichment facility that produces material of a purity approaching that needed for a nuclear weapon.

The United States and its allies have been tightening sanctions on Iran to pressure it into stopping such activities. European Union diplomats said Tuesday their member states are set to ban the import of Iranian oil from July 1, giving companies time to phase out existing contracts. The deal is expected to be finalized in the coming days.

The EU bought about a fifth of Iranian oil last year, collectively rivaling China as the main buyer. Italy, Spain and Greece have been big consumers, with debt-ridden Athens relying on easier credit terms from Tehran to finance its purchases.

An EU embargo would deprive Iran of vital foreign currency income. Iran is the second largest oil producer in the OPEC cartel after Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi has said Riyadh is prepared to boost oil production by 2 million barrels a day to offset any shortfall in global supplies resulting from a boycott on Iranian oil. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akhbar Salehi said Tuesday the Saudi offer is "unfriendly" and urged Riyadh to reconsider it.

Iranian representative to OPEC Mohammad Ali Khatibi said Tuesday an EU embargo on Iranian oil would be "economic suicide" for the 27-nation bloc, whose members are trying to overcome a debt crisis.

Iran has threatened to respond to an oil embargo by closing the Strait of Hormuz, a vital waterway for the global oil trade. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Iran's threat "provocative and dangerous."

India said Tuesday it will continue to import Iranian oil despite U.S. sanctions aimed at pressuring other nations to stop such purchases.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.