VIENNA Iran has invited the U.N. nuclear watchdog to visit for talks, a senior Western diplomat said on Tuesday, but it was not clear whether the IAEA would accept without a commitment from Tehran to address suspicions it is seeking atomic weapons.
Reflecting widespread Western skepticism, the envoy said the invitation included no promise that talks would cover issues raised last month in an International Atomic Energy Agency report that suggested Iran had worked on developing the means to build a nuclear weapon.
"Apparently the Iranians have invited agency officials, but the offer is clearly just part of their amateurish charm offensive," the diplomat said. There is "no commitment to talk substance ... same old movie."
IAEA chief Yukiya Amano has made clear that any new visit must address the agency's concerns about potential military aims of the nuclear program, which Iran says is strictly peaceful.
A second Vienna-based diplomat was unable to confirm that Iran had issued an invitation, but said the IAEA and Tehran had been in contact about a possible visit which could take place early next year. If agreed, this could be "good news," he added.
There was no immediate comment from the IAEA, the Iranian mission in Vienna or Iranian officials in Tehran.
The IAEA carries out regular inspections of Iranian nuclear sites but has not sent a senior official for talks since August, before it released its latest report containing what was described as intelligence showing Iran's nuclear military aims.
Western countries seized on the IAEA report last month to ratchet up economic sanctions.
Previous visits by senior IAEA officials have failed to make significant progress towards resolving the long-running row over Iran's nuclear program, which has the potential to spark a wider conflict in the Middle East.
IAEA Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts, head of the agency's safeguards inspections worldwide, was granted rare access to a facility for developing advanced uranium enrichment machines when he visited in August.
But Western diplomats tend to see such invitations as attempts by Iran to buy time.
The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, wrote to the IAEA in late October suggesting that a senior IAEA delegation headed by Nackaerts should visit for talks.
But Iran's angry response to the IAEA report cast doubt on those plans. Iran's IAEA ambassador said last month that "everything is messed up" by the report.
Amano said in November he had proposed sending a high-level team to Iran to "clarify the issues" raised in the report.
Another Vienna-based Western diplomat said the IAEA director general would probably only agree to send his officials to Tehran in order to specifically discuss such issues.
"I don't think they want to have talks about talks," the diplomat said.
(Reporting by Fredrik Dahl)