U.N. nuclear watchdog, Iran to meet before May 15 deadline for progress
VIENNA (Reuters) - The U.N. nuclear watchdog plans talks with Iran on Monday ahead of a May 15 deadline for the country to implement a series of measures that could allay concern about its nuclear program that the West fears may have military goals.
News of the meeting came after diplomatic sources told Reuters on Friday that the International Atomic Energy Agency was seeking further clarification from Iran about one of those steps, concerning information about detonators that can help set off a nuclear device and Tehran is believed to have developed.
Iran says it has already implemented the seven steps agreed by the two sides - including access to two uranium sites - but the sources suggested the IAEA still wanted more information about the so-called Explosive Bridge Wire (EBW) detonators.
How Iran responds to questions about its development and need of this type of equipment is seen as an important test of its willingness to cooperate fully with an IAEA investigation into suspected atomic bomb research by the country.
Iran says allegations of such work are baseless, but has offered to help clear up the suspicions with the U.N. agency.
The diplomatic sources said Iran in late April provided an explanation about the detonators, which it says are for non-nuclear uses, and that the IAEA had asked follow-up questions.
They said the IAEA also wants to agree with Iran new measures to be taken after May 15, hoping these will tackle other sensitive issues linked to what the agency calls the possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program.
IAEA spokeswoman Gill Tudor said in an email on Sunday that the meeting would take place in Vienna but gave no detail.
"IAEA and Iranian officials will meet ... for further discussions within the Framework for Cooperation," she said, referring to a transparency pact reached in November on a step-by-step process to shed more light on Iran's atomic activity.
IRAN SAYS "INSPECTORS SATISFIED"
A senior Iranian nuclear official gave an upbeat assessment of the country's cooperation with the IAEA so far.
"Our initial impression is that the inspectors were satisfied with what they saw and the information they received," Behruz Kamalvandi told Fars News Agency, after IAEA officials last week toured the Saghand uranium mine and a linked site.
Iran and the IAEA will meet a day before the Islamic Republic and six world powers on Tuesday start, also in the Austrian capital, a new round of negotiations on a broad diplomatic settlement of the decade-old nuclear dispute.
The two sets of negotiations are separate but closely linked as both focus on fears that Iran may be covertly seeking the capability to develop nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is a peaceful energy project only.
Western diplomats say Iran must start engaging with the IAEA's investigation and that this is central to the success of the powers' talks with Tehran aimed at a comprehensive deal by late July.
Iran wants an end to sanctions that are severely hurting its oil-dependent economy. After years of a worsening standoff with the West, the election last year of pragmatist Hassan Rouhani as
Iran's president opened the way for a thaw.
The mere fact that Iran agreed to help clarify the detonator issue was seen as a breakthrough as the IAEA has tried for years, mostly in vain, to investigate allegations that Iran may have worked on designing a nuclear warhead.
It was, however, one of the least difficult issues that were detailed in a IAEA report in late 2011 that provided a trove of intelligence information pointing to past activities in Iran relevant to nuclear weapon development. Diplomats and experts say Iran must still do much more to address those issues.
(Additional reporting by Mehrdad Balali in Dubai; Editing by Mark Heinrich)