TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran and the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency said on Tuesday they had agreed a plan on how to help defuse Western suspicions about Tehran’s atom work, a move hailed as a “milestone” by a senior IAEA official.
After two days of talks in Tehran, the two sides said they had drawn up a timeline for answering outstanding questions about Iran’s nuclear program, which the West believes is aimed at building atomic bombs. Iran insists its plans are peaceful.
But the United States, leading efforts to isolate Iran, has said Tehran must both cooperate with the U.N. inspectors and halt sensitive nuclear work, a step Iranian officials have rejected, if it wants to avoid a third round of U.N. sanctions.
“We have in front of us an agreed work plan. We agreed on modalities on how to implement it. We have a timeline for the implementation,” IAEA deputy director Olli Heinonen said after the negotiations, which he described as “good and constructive”.
“I think this was an important milestone,” he told a press conference. “But this process will take its time.”
Iran agreed in June to draw up an action plan within 60 days to grant more access to its nuclear sites for inspectors of the Vienna-based IAEA and clear up longstanding agency questions about the nature and scope of the program.
The U.N. body has long complained that Iran has stonewalled its inquiries into the murky history and scope of Tehran’s nuclear activities and curbed inspector movements, preventing the agency from giving Tehran a clean bill of health.
Heinonen said work would start swiftly on implementing Tuesday’s agreement, with activities later this month as well as in September and October. Details of the deal would be included in a report for the IAEA board by early September.
“We have a basic framework of agreement between Iran and the agency,” Iranian deputy nuclear negotiator Javad Vaeedi told the joint news conference, saying talks yielded “great results”, according to a translation of his words by Iran’s PRESS TV.
“We are serious about implementing this,” Vaeedi said.
The latest discussions had been due to tackle some of the thorniest issues such as the origin of traces of highly enriched — or bomb-grade — uranium found on some equipment and the status of research into advanced centrifuges used in enrichment.
Iran and the IAEA previously met in July and earlier this month. After the July talks, Tehran allowed U.N. inspectors to revisit the Arak heavy-water reactor, which is under construction. Tehran had cut off access in April in protest at U.N. sanctions.
The United Nations has imposed two sets of sanctions since December because of Iran’s failure to halt uranium enrichment, a process which can make fuel for power plants or bomb material.
Iran, the world’s fourth largest oil producer, says it wants to generate nuclear electricity and save oil and gas for export.
Washington insists Iran halt enrichment, in line with demands by the U.N. Security Council, or face more penalties.
“We intend to push it (tougher U.N. sanctions) very, very hard and we certainly will never agree that because Iran has some meetings with the IAEA, we should stop all of our efforts,” U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said on Monday.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made clear again his country would not bow to pressure and stop enrichment.
“The enemies are not able anymore to cause obstacles for Iran’s developments in the nuclear issue,” he said in Ardebil, northwest Iran, the Fars News Agency reported.
Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington