TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran expects the U.N. nuclear watchdog to highlight Tehran’s cooperation in its next report on Iran’s atomic program, which could determine whether it faces more U.N. sanctions, an Iranian official said on Monday.
Senior officials from Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency are meeting for a third round of talks on Monday and Tuesday to discuss Tehran’s offer of more transparency, part of Iran’s effort to ward off a third U.N. sanctions resolution.
Iran, under U.N. pressure to suspend work the West suspects is aimed at building nuclear bombs, agreed in June to draft an “action plan” within 60 days to give the IAEA more access to atomic sites and resolve questions about the scope of its work.
Two earlier rounds of negotiations were held in July and August. Mohammad Saeedi, deputy of head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, on Monday described those talks as “very good and constructive” but said discussions still had a long way to run.
Western diplomats say Iran has known for years what issues need clearing up and Tehran may be buying time to delay more penalties. But some diplomats also say the IAEA needs time.
“The talks in Tehran today and tomorrow will allow (us) to better assess the degree of cooperation of the Iranian side with the IAEA. Many of the old questions can be answered rather fast and that should now happen,” said a senior European diplomat in Vienna, where the IAEA is based.
An IAEA report is due out by early September. World powers have put off efforts to toughen sanctions at least until then. In the past, Iran has reduced cooperation with the IAEA after new sanctions were imposed.
“If you bully, we will have a proportionate response,” Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said, according to IRNA news agency.
“If they take the wrong path, they will force Iran to react and all the routes taken so far will be reversed and Iran will taken its next steps.” He did not elaborate.
Iran insists its atomic plans are aimed at making electricity so that it can preserve its oil and gas reserves for export.
“Our expectation from Mohammad ElBaradei, the agency’s director, is that he would point to this cooperation in his report,” Iran’s Saeedi told IRNA. “Of course, this path (of negotiations) will be a path that will take a lot of time.”
ElBaradei has said Iran’s pledge to work out an action plan has raised chances of resolving the stalemate between Iran and the West over Tehran’s refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.
“The strategy of suspension failed a long time ago so the West has no option but to wait and let the agency have whatever time is needed. There is no other practical way,” said one senior Vienna diplomat familiar with the Iran file.
The current talks led by IAEA deputy director Olli Heinonen and Iranian deputy nuclear negotiator Javad Vaeedi are to tackle thorny 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.
Enrichment, the part of Iran’s program that most worries the West, is a process for making fuel for nuclear power plants but could be used to make bomb material, if Iran wanted to.
Washington, leading efforts to isolate Iran, says Tehran can only avert more sanctions by halting sensitive atomic work.
“The U.N. Security Council has required Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA and to suspend proliferation-sensitive activities. Cooperation that is partial, conditional or promised in the future is not enough,” U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, Gregory Schulte, told Reuters.
Russia, another permanent U.N. Security Council member, is balking at further sanctions as long as the IAEA has a chance to resolve outstanding differences.
Additional reporting by Zahra Hosseinian in Tehran and Mark Heinrich in Vienna