VIENNA (Reuters) - The U.N. atomic watchdog and Iran will hold a new round of talks this week to try to reach an agreement to resume a long-stalled investigation into suspected nuclear weapons research in the Islamic Republic, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said on Monday.
Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, made a rare visit to Tehran two weeks ago and said when he returned to Vienna that he expected a framework cooperation deal to be signed soon with Iran.
Iranian officials have made clear that only once such an accord has been finalized will they grant U.N. inspectors access to the Parchin military site, where the IAEA suspects Iran may have carried out nuclear weapons development activity.
Western diplomats have voiced doubt that Iran will implement any such agreement with the Vienna-based U.N. agency, which says Tehran has stonewalled its investigation for almost four years.
They say Iran may be offering increased cooperation with the IAEA to use as a bargaining chip in its broader talks with world powers which are aimed at defusing a decade-old standoff over Tehran’s nuclear program, which has seen the major oil producer subjected to increasingly tough economic sanctions.
Iran and the six powers - the United States, France, Russia, China, Germany and Britain - will meet for a third time this year in Moscow on June 18-19 after making scant progress in the dispute at the previous meeting in Baghdad last month.
“I wish to inform the board that a meeting between Iran and the agency has been scheduled for June 8 in Vienna,” Amano said in a speech to the IAEA‘S 35-nation governing board, according to a copy of his remarks.
“I invite Iran to sign and implement the Structured Approach document as soon as possible and to provide early access to the Parchin site,” he said, referring to an agreement on how to conduct the IAEA’s investigation.
Amano said he and Iran decided in his meetings in Tehran on May 21 to agree on this document.
IRAN SEES “NEW CHAPTER”
“I was assured that agreement on the structured approach would be expedited and that the remaining differences between Iran and the Agency would not be an obstacle to reaching agreement,” the veteran Japanese diplomat said.
The IAEA’s immediate priority in its investigation is to visit Parchin, where inspectors believe Iran may have carried high explosives tests that could be used to develop an atomic bomb capability.
Western diplomats suspect Iran is now trying to clean the site of any incriminating evidence before possibly allowing U.N. inspectors to go there, a charge Tehran has dismissed.
Last week, a U.S. think-tank published satellite images which it said underscored suspicions that Iran is trying to destroy evidence of possible nuclear weapons-related research.
The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) posted the pictures on its website hours after the IAEA showed diplomats similar images that Western envoys said indicated a clean-up at Parchin.
Parchin, which Iran says is a conventional military complex, is at the centre of Western allegations that Iran has conducted experiments - possibly a decade ago - that could help develop nuclear bombs. Iran denies any such ambition.
Amano said Iran was not providing the necessary cooperation to enable the IAEA to give “credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities” in the country.
“I urge Iran to take steps towards the full implementation of all relevant obligations in order to establish international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program,” he told the closed-door board meeting.
Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said a “new chapter” had begun between the agency and the Islamic Republic, the official IRNA news agency reported.
Soltanieh warned against technical issues being politicized.
“Certain elements are trying to distort the constructive atmosphere of cooperation between Iran and the agency through political controversy,” he said, in a clear reference to Iran’s Western foes.
Additional reporting by Marcus George; Editing by Jon Hemming