* New Iran-IAEA meeting first since August
* EU's Ashton urges Iran to resolve "outstanding issues"
* U.S. said Iran fired at its drone; escalation risk clear
By Fredrik Dahl
VIENNA, Nov 9 Iran will return to talks with the
International Atomic Energy Agency next month, the U.N. nuclear
watchdog and Tehran said on Friday, the latest push to seek a
peaceful end to a dispute that has raised fears of a new Middle
The news came days after U.S. President Barack Obama's
re-election, which some analysts say may give fresh impetus to
efforts to end a decade-old standoff with a country the West
accuses of working towards a nuclear weapons capability.
In a stark reminder of how tensions could escalate, the
Pentagon said on Thursday that Iranian warplanes fired at an
unarmed U.S. drone in the Gulf last week.
The IAEA said it hoped the talks in Tehran on Dec. 13 would
produce an agreement to allow it to resume a long-stalled
investigation into possible military aspects of Iran's nuclear
The agency says it has "credible information indicating that
Iran had carried out activities relevant to the development of a
nuclear explosive device" and wants Tehran to give it access to
sites, officials and documents to clarify the issue.
Iran denies it wants nuclear bombs and has repeatedly ruled
out stopping its atomic activities.
A series of meetings since early this year, the last one in
August, failed to make concrete progress.
Israel, assumed to be the Middle East's only nuclear-armed
power, has threatened military action if it looks like Tehran is
close to getting nuclear weapons capability.
"The aim (of the talks) is to conclude the structured
approach to resolving outstanding issues related to Iran's
nuclear programme," agency spokeswoman Gill Tudor said.
A Western diplomat was sceptical, noting that the talks
would only take place after the next meeting of the IAEA's
35-nation governing board.
"So it is the usual scenario: defer criticism now by
promising something later. Something that has failed to
materialise the last four times," the envoy said.
The IAEA's talks with Iran are separate from Tehran's
nuclear discussions with six world powers - the United States,
Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - which resumed in
April but have also so far failed to reach any breakthrough.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton - who
represents the powers in talks with Iran - sees the new
IAEA-Iran meeting as long overdue.
It "could be an initial step on the path to resolve
outstanding issues," Maja Kocijancic, Ashton's spokeswoman,
said, adding that Iran had so far failed to cooperate in
She reiterated concerns about the Parchin military site,
which the IAEA wants to visit as part of its inquiry and where
Western diplomats suspect Iran is now trying to clean up any
evidence of past illicit nuclear-related activity.
The IAEA mission is likely to be headed by Deputy Director
General Herman Nackaerts, the chief U.N. nuclear inspector,
diplomatic sources said.
Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, later
confirmed to Reuters that his country would hold talks with the
U.N. agency next month.
Years of talks and sanctions have failed to end the dispute.
But, now assured of a second term, Obama, who has so far
resisted calls in the United States and Israel for an attack on
Iran, appears free to pursue a diplomatic settlement while
threatening yet heavier sanctions if Tehran does not bend.
The United States and its allies want Iran to curb its
uranium enrichment programme. Iran, one of the world's largest
oil producers, says the West must first lift increasingly harsh