International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief inspector Herman Nackaerts said yesterday after “good” talks in Tehran that he expects to reach a deal with Iran in January on outstanding issues over its controversial atomic program.
“We have agreed to meet again on Jan. 16 next year, where we expect to finalize the structured approach and start implementing it shortly after that,” Nackaerts said.
“We had good meetings,” he told reporters at Vienna airport after the meeting in Tehran, adding that Parchin, a military base at the center of the IAEA’s investigation, is “part of the structured approach.”
Parchin featured in a major IAEA report issued in November last year summarizing what it says is “overall, credible” evidence that until 2003, and possibly since, Iran has conducted weapons research.
Because the bulk of the information in the report comes from foreign intelligence agencies, Iran has said it is either forged or related to non-nuclear work.
The IAEA has zeroed in on Parchin because some of its information on the base is “independent.”
The agency wants an agreement that would enable its inspectors to visit Parchin and other sites that it suspects may be linked to the “possible military dimensions” to Iran’s nuclear program.
Iran says Parchin is a conventional military site and has dismissed allegations that it has tried to clean up the site before any visit.
Western diplomats say Iran has carried out extensive work at Parchin over the past year — including demolition of buildings and removal of soil — to cleanse it of any traces of illicit activity. However, the IAEA said a visit would still be “useful.”
A US think tank said late on Wednesday that new satellite imagery showed “what appears to be the ‘reconstruction’ phase” of the site at Parchin that the IAEA wants to see, following “considerable alterations” there earlier in the year.
“A new site layout is taking shape and the presence of dirt piles and a considerable number of earth-moving vehicles and cars suggest that construction is continuing at a steady pace,” the Institute for Science and International Security said.
Thursday’s meeting between Nackaerts’s team and Iranian officials was the latest in a string of what have up till now been fruitless talks this year between the Iranians and the IAEA, the latest in August in Vienna.
The US has warned that it will push for the board of the Vienna-based agency to refer Iran to the UN Security Council if Tehran displays no “substantive cooperation” by March.
The West suspects Iran is using its nuclear program as a cover for developing atomic weapons, charges that Tehran denies.
Meanwhile, in the latest sign of how Washington is ratcheting up the pressure on Iran, the US imposed sanctions on Thursday on seven companies and five individuals that it said provided support to the Islamic state’s nuclear program.
The US Treasury Department said the action would bar those companies and individuals from doing business with US firms or citizens, and freeze any assets they have in the US.