VIENNA The U.N. atomic agency and Iran may hold a new round of nuclear talks in August, diplomats said on Monday, in what would be their first meeting since last month's election of a relative moderate as the Islamic state's president.
If it does take place, the meeting will be scrutinized by the West for any sign of increased Iranian readiness to compromise in the decade-old international dispute over its nuclear program after the June 14 election of Hassan Rouhani.
A diplomat in Vienna, where the International Atomic Energy Agency is based, said he believed the aim was for an IAEA-Iran meeting in mid-August but that no decision had yet been taken.
"I think that no meeting in August would be a bad sign," another Western envoy said.
That would be shortly before the IAEA issues its next, quarterly report on Iran's nuclear program in late August and ahead of a week-long session of the U.N. agency's 35-nation governing board in September.
Western officials accuse Iran of stonewalling the IAEA's inquiry into suspected atomic bomb research and say Tehran in the past has been keen to meet with the agency shortly before board meetings to try to blunt criticism voiced there.
The IAEA-Iran discussions are separate from, but still closely associated with, broader negotiations between Tehran and six world powers aimed at an overall political solution to the dispute that would head off the risk of a new Middle East war.
The IAEA, in an e-mailed response to a question, said it had no news to report about any future discussions with Iran. They last met in May in Vienna, without achieving a breakthrough.
International hopes for a resolution of the nuclear dispute were boosted by the election of Rouhani because he has promised a more conciliatory approach to foreign relations than incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
But Western officials stress that it is Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who decides nuclear policy and it remains to be seen whether he will allow any shift in course.
Iran says it is enriching uranium only to fuel nuclear power stations, and for medical purposes. But refined uranium also provides the fissile material for nuclear bombs if processed further, which the West fears may be Tehran's ultimate goal.
IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano told Reuters last month he remained committed to dialogue with Iran to address the U.N. agency's concerns about what it calls the possible military dimensions to the country's nuclear program.
Ten rounds of talks since early 2012 have failed to make progress in reviving the investigation. The IAEA wants access to sites, officials and documents for its inquiry.
Iran says the allegations that it may have carried out tests relevant for developing atomic bombs are baseless and forged.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)