VIENNA (Reuters) - The U.N. nuclear watchdog director said on Friday he and Iran’s chief negotiator had agreed to draw up an “plan of action” within two months on how to resolve questions about Iran’s disputed nuclear program.
International Atomic Energy Agency director Mohamed ElBaradei said he hoped the stalemate of the last weeks could be broken and described the two-hour meeting with Ali Larijani as “quite satisfying”.
Yet while Larijani also spoke of “good progress”, they reported no breakthrough in the core dispute — Iran’s defiance of U.N. demands to stop uranium enrichment.
“I hope we should be in a position in the next weeks to move forward and break the stalemate where we have been in for the last few months,” ElBaradei told reporters.
He said they were drawing up “a plan of action which I hope we should be able to conclude within two months” and then start implementing.
However, diplomats say that about a year ago, Iran agreed with the IAEA to come up with a plan for resolving outstanding issues within three weeks, but never followed through.
Larijani is due to meet EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana in Lisbon on Saturday, seen as the last chance to overcome a standoff over Tehran’s nuclear defiance before world powers start drafting tougher sanctions against it.
Solana has been exploring a face-saving way to allow the Islamic Republic to stop enriching uranium.
“I believe our talks with Mr. ElBaradei today will be quite helpful with the process that Mr. Solana is working on to reach an understanding and a solution,” Larijani told journalists after the meeting.
The last Larijani-Solana meeting in May produced no breakthrough on the core enrichment dispute and the latest flurry of exploratory talks were unlikely to make much headway.
The meetings come amid IAEA concern about increasing Iranian restrictions on access for agency inspectors, imposed in retaliation for existing sanctions.
The United States said on Tuesday it and five other world powers — Britain, Russia, France, Germany and China — had begun discussing a third round of penalties against Iran over concerns that it was secretly trying to build atomic bombs.
Larijani made it clear upon his arrival in Vienna that he would not discuss what he called a compromise of Iran’s right to a peaceful nuclear energy program.
“Even if the U.N. threatens Iran with more sanctions, the country will not stop its uranium enrichment activities,” Larijani said, according to Iran’s official news agency IRNA.
Iran has refused U.N. demands to halt enrichment, a process that yields fuel for power plants but can also provide material for weapons if the uranium is refined to a much higher degree. Tehran says its goal is the peaceful generation of electricity.
Since February, Iran has been rapidly expanding a hitherto research-level centrifuge operation at its Natanz enrichment complex in a bid for “industrial-scale” fuel production.
ElBaradei has urged Iran to answer IAEA questions about the nature of its program, including suspected military links, and reconsider a decision to stop providing advance design information about planned nuclear installations to the agency.
Tehran has said the U.N. Security Council must first return authority over its file to the Vienna-based IAEA, which would end sanctions pressure — a non-starter for Western powers.
Instead of freezing all enrichment-related activity, as the Security Council has demanded, Iran has accelerated the program and says it has passed the point of no return.
“When the world saw that the (Iranian) nation is pursuing this goal with unity, the world surrendered,” Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi was quoted by ISNA news agency as saying on Friday. “We have passed the dangerous moment.”
The Security Council has already imposed two rounds of limited sanctions on Iran over its refusal to shelve enrichment.
Iran has about 2,000 centrifuges installed as of early June, most of them enriching uranium and others undergoing test “dry runs” without uranium in them, but is likely to reach the 3,000 threshold by the end of July, diplomats have said.
Three thousand could produce material for one bomb within a year if run non-stop at supersonic speed. But Iran has yet to demonstrate such capability probably remains a few years away from being able to build a bomb if it wants one, analysts say.
Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl in Tehran