The head of the UN nuclear surveillance agency pressed Iran over inspections during a visit to Tehran yesterday that was being closely watched ahead of wider nuclear talks between Iran and world powers later this week.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Yukiya Amano began his day of meetings with Fereydoon Abbasi Davani, the official in charge of Iran’s nuclear energy program.
After the talks, the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization issued a statement saying that issues were raised “in a frank manner, and proposals were made to remove ambiguities and to develop cooperation,” without elaborating.
Amano made no immediate comment. He was to hold separate discussions with Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, and Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Akbar Salehi.
Before leaving on the Iran trip, Amano said he aimed to build on “good progress” made last week between lower-ranking IAEA and Iranian officials in Vienna.
The outcome of his visit is being seen as an indicator of Iran’s willingness to allay international suspicions of nuclear weapons research. Those questions were to be raised tomorrow in Baghdad talks between representatives of Iran and of the five veto--wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the US — plus Germany, the so-called “P5+1.”
The Baghdad talks are to supposed to address some of the major concerns about Iran’s nuclear activities, and related sanctions imposed by the West and the UN, following an ice-breaking session in Istanbul, Turkey, last month that ended a 15-month hiatus.
The very fact Amano himself was in Tehran yesterday — on his first trip to Iran since taking the helm of the IAEA — raised speculation that the country could grant the IAEA access to a key military installation, Parchin, outside Tehran, for the first time in seven years.
However, Amano, while avoiding giving any details of what he was to discuss, stated on leaving Vienna that “nothing is certain.”
While he was conducting the trip in a “positive” mindset, he underlined: “This visit is very short and I’m not an inspector.”
Tehran this year rebuffed repeated requests from IAEA chief inspector Hermann Nackaerts to send a team to verify Western intelligence information suggesting Parchin could have hosted explosives testing for nuclear warheads in a special metal chamber.
Western countries have accused Iran of removing evidence from the site, while Amano has said satellite imagery showed unspecified activity.
Iran says Parchin is not a designated nuclear site and thus it is not obliged to permit IAEA inspections, although it last did so in 2005.
Further, it says, if it did allow inspections there, they would have to be part of an agreed “road map” that would address the IAEA’s concerns in a set order.
Salehi, quoted in the Donya-e-Eqtesad newspaper ahead of Amano’s visit, said: “The focus of the visit will be on the issue of modality. We hope the two sides can reach an agreement and draw up a new modality to answer [IAEA] questions and clear up ambiguities.”
He called the UN diplomat’s presence in Tehran “a good omen.”
Insisting its nuclear program is purely civilian, Iran says it already fully cooperates with the agency and has accused the Vienna-based IAEA of being manipulated by Western intelligence services.