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Deadline passed, no sign of breakthrough in Iran nuclear probe

By Fredrik Dahl

VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran may have failed to meet a deadline for addressing U.N. concerns about suspected nuclear bomb research, but it could still act to influence a key report due next week, diplomatic sources said on Wednesday.

The sources, who follow the nuclear issue but declined to be identified, said they had seen no indications so far that Tehran had replied in substance to questions from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) by the agreed Aug. 25 date.

They suggested, however, that there was still time for Iran to provide information in the coming days in order to avoid any negative impression in the IAEA's closely-watched quarterly report on Tehran's nuclear programme, expected around Sept. 3.

"Probably, they are late," one envoy said. "They only give as much as they have to."

There was no comment from the Vienna-based IAEA, which is expected to give details about its contacts with Iranian officials in the report.

Western officials say it is vital for Iran to address the IAEA's questions for the chances of success in parallel diplomatic efforts to end a decade-old standoff with the West which has imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic over concerns it is developing a nuclear weapons capability, something Iran denies.

Tehran agreed in May to carry out five specific steps by late August to help allay international concerns.

They included providing information on two issues that are part of the IAEA's inquiry into the possible military dimensions of the country's nuclear programme: alleged experiments on explosives that could be used for an atomic device, and studies related to calculating nuclear explosive yields.

Iran has promised to cooperate with the IAEA since Hassan Rouhani, seen as a pragmatist, was elected president in 2013.

"VERY FAR APART"

Iran's atomic energy chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, was quoted on Monday as saying that Tehran was "in the process" of completing the measures on nuclear transparency that were agreed with the IAEA three months ago. He gave no details.

Apart from clarifying the two issues in the IAEA's investigation, the U.N. agency wants Iran to agree on future steps to address other outstanding topics.

It appears no closer, however, to being allowed access to a location at a sprawling military plant, Parchin southeast of Tehran, where it suspects that nuclear-related tests were carried out a decade ago. Iran denies the allegation.

"Right now there is no point for the IAEA to visit Parchin," Defence Minister Hassan Dehghan was quoted by Iranian media as saying on Saturday.

In 2011, the IAEA published a report that included intelligence indicating Iran had a nuclear weapons research programme that was halted in 2003 when it came under increased international pressure. The intelligence suggested some activities may later have resumed.

After years of what the West saw as Iranian stonewalling, Iran as a first step in May gave the IAEA information about why it was developing "bridge wire" detonators, which can be used to set off atomic explosive devices. Iran says they are for civilian use, and wants this topic in the investigation closed.

In mid-July, the separate negotiations on a diplomatic settlement between Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia were extended until late November.

Those talks are focused on persuading Iran to curb its atomic activities. In exchange, the West would phase out sanctions that are hurting Iran's oil-dependent economy.

"The nuclear negotiations are not progressing. The positions are still very far apart," one senior Western diplomat said, ahead of next month's expected resumption of the talks.

(Additional reporting by John Irish; Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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