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Iran hints it could consider wider nuclear inspections

GENEVA (Reuters) - Iran suggested it was ready to address calls to give the U.N. atomic watchdog wider inspection powers as part of Tehran's proposals to resolve a decade-old nuclear dispute with the West.

The comments from Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi appeared to be the first specific indication of what concessions Tehran might be prepared to make in return for the removal of sanctions hurting its oil-dependent economy.

Iran presented a three-phase plan for ending the standoff over its nuclear program during the first day of an October 15-16 meeting with six world powers in Geneva on Tuesday. The talks were due to resume later on Wednesday.

Iran did not give details of its proposal On Tuesday, but said it included monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear body which regularly inspects declared Iranian facilities.

Iran's official IRNA news agency asked Araqchi about the issues of uranium enrichment and the so-called Additional Protocol to Iran's agreement with the IAEA.

"Neither of these issues are within the first step (of the Iranian proposal) but form part of our last steps," he replied without going into further details, in comments reported on Wednesday.

The Additional Protocol allows unannounced inspections outside of declared nuclear sites and it is seen as a vital tool at the IAEA's disposal to make sure that a country does not have any hidden nuclear work.

The world powers have long demanded that Iran implement the protocol. Iran says it is voluntary.

The powers - the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia - also want Iran to scale back its uranium enrichment program and suspend higher-level activity.

Refined uranium can be used to fuel nuclear power plants, Iran's stated aim, but can also provide the fissile core of a nuclear bomb if processed further, which the West fears may be Tehran's ultimate goal.

Western diplomats stress they want Tehran to back up its newly conciliatory language with concrete actions.

Both sides are trying to dampen expectations of any rapid breakthrough at the two-day meeting, the first to be held since President Hassan Rouhani took office, promising conciliation over confrontation in Iran's relations with the world.

(Reporting by Marcus George in Dubai; Writing by Fredrik Dahl in Geneva; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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