IAEA chief says Iran nuclear inspections deal is not far off, 22nd May 2012, The Guardian, Julian Borger
UN nuclear head Yukiya Amano says he and chief Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili are determined to reach a deal.
The head of the UN nuclear agency, Yukiya Amano, has said an agreement would be signed "quite soon" with Iran to allow an investigation into claims it had tried to develop nuclear weapons.
Amano, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was speaking on his return to the agency's Vienna headquarters after a day of talks in Tehran. He described the talks as an "important development" and said he and the chief Iranian negotiator, Saeed Jalili, were determined to reach a deal, but it was also clear a final agreement had not been reached.
"The decision was made by me and Mr Jalili to reach agreement on the structured approach. An agreement will be signed quite soon," Amano said, but did not give a date.
Amano had flown from Vienna to Tehran at short notice on Sunday in the hope his presence would seal an agreement on a framework for a long-running IAEA investigation into evidence that Iran may have carried out research and development work on warhead design.
The investigation had been stalled for four years, but Iran has in recent years shown willingness to consent to site visits and interviews with its scientists as long as the investigation followed what it called a 'structured approach'.
In particular, Tehran wanted assurances the investigation should not continue indefinitely but should have a timetable and end point to aim for. For his part, Herman Nackaerts, the chief IAEA inspector, had insisted his inspectors should be able to follow leads wherever they led without tying their hands in advance. Amano was seeking a compromise and it remains unclear how close he has come.
Nackaerts, who accompanied Amano to Tehran, has made his first priority to visit a military site at Parchin, south-east of Tehran, where the IAEA says it has been given evidence that, at some point after 2000, Iranian scientists may have tested the high-explosive elements of an implosion device needed for the construction of a warhead small enough to put on a missile.
Iran has denied carrying out such an experimentation, or any work on weaponisation. Tehran had said access to Parchin was dependent on reaching a agreement on the 'structured approach' framework.
If an agreement is signed and leads to broader Iranian co-operation it could be seen as a vindication of Amano's tougher approach to Iran compared with his predecessor, Mohamed ElBaradei.
Amano has published more evidence collected by his inspectors pointing towards Iranian work on nuclear weapons, and has been more outspoken in his criticism of Tehran for its reluctance to co-operate with the investigation.
It is unclear what effect the outcome of Sunday's talks will have for negotiations due on Wednesday in Baghdad between Iran and representatives from six world powers on the broader issue of Tehran's uranium enrichment, which the UN security council has demanded be suspended.
Western officials said an IAEA deal could improve the atmosphere in Baghdad, or conversely, damage prospects for those negotiations if Iran presents progress on an IAEA inspections framework as its sole concession.
The six-nation negotiating group (comprising the US, China, Russia, the UK, France and Germany) wants Iran to stop production of 20%-enriched uranium, which lies between the low-enriched uranium for use in nuclear power stations and highly enriched uranium used in warheads. The west also wants a deeply buried enrichment plant called Fordow to be taken out of operation.
In return, Iran could be offered nuclear fuel for its research reactor in Tehran and safety advice and equipment for the Tehran reactor and its nuclear power station at Bushehr, on Iran's Gulf coast.
"If Amano's presence in Tehran can produce something, it will play into this week's talks in Baghdad," a senior European diplomat said. "If Iran can indicate it is ready to respond to international concerns over its nuclear programme, that will be positive. But there will be no reward for simply turning up and the key issue for building confidence is still uranium enriched to 20% … If we are going to continue talking in good faith, there has to be something put forward by Iran."
The acting US representative at the IAEA in Vienna, Robert Wood, issued a statement on Tuesday urging Iran to do more to co-operate with the IAEA investigation.
"We urge Iran to take this opportunity to resolve all outstanding concerns about the nature of its nuclear programme," Wood said. "Full and transparent co-operation with the IAEA is the first logical step."