Iran and the UN nuclear watchdog were due in talks Friday to make a fresh push to patch up relations as Tehran feels the heat from sanctions and amid fevered speculation of imminent Israeli military action.
But with the International Atomic Energy Agency having this year failed in a string of other meetings, including in Tehran, to get Iran to grant access to nuclear scientists, documents and sites, hopes were not high.
“I cannot say at this time that I am optimistic about the outcome of the coming meeting,” IAEA head Yukiya Amano, who came home empty-handed from a trip to Iran in May, said in Finland on Wednesday.
And even if there is progress, this is unlikely to break the current deadlock in higher-level diplomatic efforts on a different track — between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany — after fruitless meetings in Istanbul, Baghdad and Moscow this year.
In Israel, meanwhile, talk of military action on Iran has reached a cacophony this month, although it is unclear whether it is aimed merely at spurring US President Barack Obama into adopting a more hawkish position.
At Friday’s meeting, the IAEA wants Iran to address evidence it has suggesting that at least until 2003, and possibly since, Tehran carried out “activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.”
Iran rejects Western accusations that it is seeking to develop atomic weapons and says that its nuclear program is peaceful.
It says the evidence presented by the IAEA, set out in a major report last November and added to since, is fabricated by its enemies, not least its arch foe Israel, the Middle East’s only — if undeclared — nuclear–armed power.
The IAEA wants access to specific documents and to scientists involved in Iran’s programme, as well as to sites, including the Parchin military base near Tehran, which it visited twice in 2005 but which it wants to look at again.
Even though analysts say other sites are more significant, the IAEA has zeroed in on Parchin because its information on the site, unlike on others, is not from foreign intelligence services — sources which the IAEA refuses to reveal.
Iran has said it will allow access only if this forms part of a wider arrangement governing relations between Iran and the watchdog that experts and diplomats say would limit to an unacceptable degree the IAEA’s inspection rights.
Western countries have accused Iran of bulldozing parts of Parchin to remove evidence, and the IAEA said in May that activities spotted there by satellite “could hamper the agency’s ability to undertake effective verification.”
“I really don’t see much use in going to Parchin now that the site has been sanitized,” one Western diplomat in Vienna told AFP on condition of anonymity.
Friday’s meeting, the first since June, between Iranian officials and IAEA chief inspector Herman Nackaerts and Amano’s deputy Rafael Grossi comes before the release of the IAEA’s latest quarterly report on Iran, possibly next week.
The report, ahead of an IAEA board of governors meeting starting September 10, is expected to show once more that despite unprecedented international pressure and the talk of war, Iran is continuing to expand its nuclear activities.