U.N. nuclear agency ready to go to Iran's Parchin site
VIENNA (Reuters) - U.N. nuclear inspectors would be ready to go to Iran's disputed Parchin military complex if the Islamic state were to allow it during talks in Tehran later this week, a senior official said on Wednesday.
The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) believes Iran has conducted explosives tests with nuclear applications at Parchin, a sprawling facility southeast of Tehran, and has repeatedly asked for access.
Western diplomats say Iran has carried out extensive work at Parchin over the past year to cleanse it of any evidence of illicit activities, but IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said last week a visit would still be "useful".
Iran rejects accusations of a covert bid to develop the means and technologies needed to build nuclear arms and says Parchin is a conventional military site.
Thursday's talks in Tehran could indicate whether Iran is more willing to address international concerns over its atomic activities after U.S. President Barack Obama's re-election.
The stakes are high: Israel - widely believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed power - has threatened military action if diplomacy fails to prevent its arch-enemy acquiring nuclear weapons. Iran says it would hit back hard if attacked.
IAEA Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts, head of the team travelling to Iran, said the aim was to reach an agreement on outstanding issues "related to possible military dimensions" of Iran's nuclear program.
"We also hope that Iran will allow us to go to the site of Parchin," Nackaerts told journalists at Vienna airport before departing for Tehran.
"If Iran would grant us access, we would welcome that chance and we are ready to go," he said.
Western diplomats say they are not optimistic about a breakthrough in this week's discussions, since a series of meetings since January have failed to make any progress.
But they do not rule out that Iran, under tightening Western sanctions hurting its oil-dependent economy, will offer some concessions in an attempt to ease international pressure.
The IAEA wants Iran to allow its inspectors to visit sites, interview officials and study documents as part of an inquiry - largely stymied by Iranian stonewalling for four years - into suspected past, and possibly current, nuclear weapons research.
Iran says its nuclear program is entirely peaceful and rejects international demands to curb nuclear activity that could have both civilian and military purposes.
It says it must reach a framework agreement on the inquiry with the IAEA before providing the requested access.
(Editing by Kevin Liffey)