VIENNA The U.N. nuclear chief said on Friday there was "still a long way to go" to resolve a decade-old dispute over Iran's nuclear program, a note of caution days after Tehran curbed its atomic activity under an interim deal with world powers.
Yukiya Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, made the comment as he won broad backing from the IAEA's 35-nation board for the U.N. body's expanded role in Iran to check that it complies with the accord over the next six months.
Many governments said they would help pay the estimated $8 million the IAEA needs to inspect Iranian nuclear sites under the deal, which took effect on Monday, diplomats who attended the closed-door meeting said.
The IAEA will nearly double the number of people it already has working on Iran. Amano said the interim agreement - under which Iran will get relief from some economic sanctions - was an "important step forward towards achieving a comprehensive solution" to the nuclear dispute.
But, he added: "there is still a long way to go".
He told a news conference it would take "quite a long time" to resolve all outstanding issues, including a long-running IAEA probe into suspicions that Iran may have carried out research relevant for the development of nuclear weapons.
In the deal with the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia, Iran agreed to suspend its most sensitive nuclear activity in exchange for a limited easing of sanctions that are battering its oil-dependent economy.
After years of increasing economic isolation, Iran, under new President Hassan Rouhani, is seeking "constructive engagement" with the world, including the United States which Iranian politicians regularly refer to as the "Great Satan".
TOUGH TALKS AHEAD
The agreement hammered out in Geneva in November is designed to buy time for negotiations on a final settlement of the dispute over an Iranian nuclear program Tehran says is peaceful but the West fears may have military aims.
Those talks - expected to start in February - are likely to be more difficult than last year's negotiations, diplomats say, as the West is likely to seek a significant scaling back of Iran's uranium enrichment activity.
Refined uranium can provide fuel for nuclear power plants, Iran's stated aim, or provide weapons material if processed much further, which Western states fear may be the real goal.
The IAEA already inspects Iranian nuclear facilities regularly to make sure there is no diversion of material for military purposes. That work will now increase.
Until now, the IAEA had one-to-two teams of two inspectors each in Iran most of the time as well as experts working on the Iran file at its Vienna headquarters.
"We will need to nearly double the staff resources devoted to verification in Iran," Amano said. "We will need to significantly increase the frequency of the verification activities which we are currently conducting."
The U.S. envoy to the IAEA, Joseph Macmanus, said the United States would provide a funds and a dozen other countries told the board they would be ready to contribute. "There won't be any problem in financing this," a diplomat said.
Confirming a Reuters story earlier this month, Amano told the news conference that the agency may ask Iran's permission to set up a temporary office there for logistical purposes.
He also said inspectors would visit Iran's Gchine uranium mine in the next few days. Iranian state television earlier this month said visit - the first since 2005 - would take place on January 29.
(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)