The U.N. nuclear agency expressed confidence Friday that it will clinch a deal with Iran next month under which Tehran will at last answer “credible” evidence that it has conducted atomic weapons research.
Herman Nackaerts, International Atomic Energy Agency chief inspector, said after what he called “good meetings” in Tehran that the deal would include access to the Parchin base where the agency suspect’s explosives tests applicable for nuclear weapons took place.
Such a breakthrough, if it really happens, could indicate that Iran, feeling the pinch from massive sanctions pressure, may give ground in parallel diplomatic efforts with six world powers stalled since June. But that is a big “if”, experts say.
“We have agreed to meet again on 16 January next year, where we expect to finalize the structured approach and start implementing it then shortly after that,” Nackaerts told reporters at Vienna airport, saying Parchin was “part of” the arrangement under negotiation.
On Thursday, Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, was quoted by state media as saying in typically upbeat fashion that the meeting was “constructive, positive, and good progress has been made”.
The IAEA wants Iran to address substantively a mass of what the agency calls “overall, credible” evidence set out in a major 2011 report that until 2003, and possibly since, Iran did weapons research.
Iran denies seeking or ever having sought nuclear weapons, and says its program is exclusively peaceful.
So far, including in a string of previous fruitless meetings between the IAEA and Iran this year both in Tehran and Vienna, Iran has rejected the alleged evidence outright.
This is because the bulk is from foreign intelligence agencies, including from arch foe Israel, the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear-armed state which has refused to rule out bombing Iran to stop it also getting the bomb.
The IAEA has zeroed in on Parchin near Tehran because its information on activities there is “independent”, such as from commercially available satellite imagery or an unnamed “foreign expert”.
Tehran also says that the IAEA has already visited the site near Tehran twice in 2005.
The agency counters that since then, it has received additional information that makes it want to go back.
The IAEA also says “extensive activities” spotted by satellite at Parchin began in January, such as the scraping and removal of earth and the razing of buildings, leading to Western accusations that Iran is destroying evidence.
Parallel efforts by six world powers are focused more on Iran’s current activities, rather than the past, in particular Tehran’s expanding ability to enrich uranium to fissile purities of 20 percent.
Iran says that this is for a research reactor in Tehran producing nuclear medicines but when further purified to 90 percent; such material can be used in a nuclear bomb.
Multiple UN Security Council resolutions have called on Iran to suspend all enrichment because the IAEA, which closely monitors Iran’s nuclear sites, says it is “unable” to conclude all activities are peaceful.
The six powers -- Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States, and Germany -- are thought to be discussing possible changes to an offer rejected by Iran in their last round of talks in Moscow in June.
Mark Fitzpatrick from the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London warned in reference to the IAEA talks however that “we have been down this road before”.
“Back in January Iran similarly led the IAEA to expect that a deal was in sight, only to find hardliners in Tehran insisting putting up roadblocks,” Fitzpatrick told AFP.
“So it is too early to say whether the positive mood music coming out of the IAEA’s latest visit to Tehran holds promise for the P5+1 track. At least for the moment Iran hasn’t dug a deeper hole.”