IAEA chief says nears deal with Iran ahead of 6-power talks (REUTERS) By Fredrik Dahl VIENNA, AUSTRIA 05/22/12 10:17pm EDT)
Reuters News Service
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(Reuters) - The U.N. nuclear watchdog director said on Tuesday he
expected to sign a deal with Iran soon to unblock an investigation
into suspected work on atom bombs, potentially brightening prospects
for big-power talks with Tehran to stop a drift toward conflict.
Yukiya Amano was summarizing the outcome of rare talks he conducted
in Tehran on Monday, two days before six powers meet Iran´s security
council chief in Baghdad to test Iranian willingness to curb its
nuclear program in a transparent way.
Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency,
said his wish for access to Iran´s Parchin military complex where
nuclear weapons-relevant tests may have occurred would be addressed
as part of the accord.
But the powers will be wary of past failures to carry out extra
inspection deals between the International Atomic Energy Agency and
Iran, and Western patience is wearing thin.
White House press secretary Jay Carney called the move "a step in the
right direction" but stressed Washington wanted to see verifiable
movement by Tehran.
"We will make judgments about Iran´s behavior based on actions, not
just promises or agreements," he told a news briefing, adding that
Washington "will continue to pressure Iran, continue to move forward
with the sanctions." European sanctions to block Iran´s economically
vital oil exports are to take force in July and Israel has mooted
military action. A defiant Iran, which denies any ambition to acquire
atom bombs, has threatened reprisals and oil prices have risen on
fear of a new Middle East war hitting a wobbly world economy.
Amano acknowledged that "some differences" remained before the deal
he discussed on his first visit to Tehran could be sealed, although
chief Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili had assured him these would not
"The decision was made to conclude and sign the agreement ... At this
stage, I can say it will be signed quite soon," the veteran Japanese
diplomat told reporters at Vienna airport on his return from the
Amano, who flew impromptu to Tehran to capitalize on progress in
talks with Iran in Vienna held by senior aides, described the outcome
of his meeting in Iran as an "important development ... We understood
each other´s position better".
Asked what differences persisted, Amano said only that they
were "details of discussions on this document."
Western diplomats suggested there were still unresolved issues
concerning the way the IAEA´s probe would be conducted, with Iran
wanting to control and restrict it in ways the U.N. agency could not
"It is not a small issue," one envoy said. Another said a final deal
might not be struck quickly: "Even if we got an agreement ... it is a
milestone, but it is a small milestone."
Driving home Western skepticism rooted in the checkered history of
IAEA transparency deals with Iran, the acting U.S. ambassador to the
agency urged the Islamic Republic to open up immediately and
meaningfully to inspectors.
"While we appreciate the efforts (by the IAEA) to conclude a
substantive agreement, we remain concerned by the urgent obligation
for Iran to ... cooperate fully with the verification efforts of the
IAEA ... to resolve all outstanding concerns about the nature of its
nuclear program," Robert Wood said.
Israel greeted word of a incipient IAEA-Iran pact with suspicion,
citing an Iranian track record of evading and restricting inspections
aimed at ensuring no military diversions of nuclear activity.
"Iran has proven over the years its lack of credibility, its
dishonesty - telling the truth is not its strong side - and therefore
we have to be suspicious of them all the time, and examine the
agreement that is being formulated," Civil Defense Minister Matan
Vilnai said on Israel Radio.
Asked whether last-resort air strikes on Iran were still conceivable
with apparent headway being made on the diplomatic track, Vilnai
replied: "One shouldn´t get confused for even a moment - everything
is on the table."
Iran has for four years stonewalled IAEA requests to examine sites,
especially the Parchin site southeast of Tehran, interview senior
nuclear scientists and peruse documents to verify Western
intelligence reports about Iranian research and experiments pertinent
to manufacturing nuclear explosives.
Western diplomats accredited to the IAEA said that whether concerns
about Iran´s nuclear intentions would be allayed by the deal would
depend on how it was applied on the ground.
"There is skepticism until this is signed and then, once it is
signed, there will be skepticism until it is implemented," a official
from one Western power in Vienna told Reuters.
HIGH-STAKES BAGHDAD NEGOTIATIONS
In Baghdad, Jalili - the personal representative of Iranian Supreme
Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - will meet Catherine Ashton, the EU
foreign policy chief heading a coalition of the five U.N. Security
Council permanent members - the United States, Britain, France,
Russia and China - plus Germany.
Their main goal is expected to be an Iranian agreement to shut down
the higher-grade uranium enrichment that it launched in 2010 and has
since expanded in an underground plant at Fordow largely impervious
to attack from the air, effectively shortening the time needed to
weaponize nuclear technology.
"Cooperation with the IAEA like access to Parchin is important but
not sufficient. The 20 percent enrichment has to be addressed as a
priority," a European diplomat said.
Iran maintains it needs uranium refined to a fissile concentration of
20 percent for its medical isotope reactor. Enrichment to 5 percent
of fissile purity is suitable for power plant fuel, while 90 percent
constitutes fuel for bombs.
Iranian state television quoted Amano as saying that his talks would
have a "positive impact" on the Baghdad meeting.
But diverging agendas stand in the way of a breakthrough.
Iran has suggested it will try to leverage its reported rapprochement
with the IAEA into a deal in Baghdad to relax sanctions inflicting
increasing damage to its economy. But Western officials ruled out
such a weighty concession so soon.
"We are not going to do anything concrete in exchange for nice
words," a senior Western diplomat cautioned.
In an apparent move to beef up its bargaining position, Iran
announced on Tuesday that it had delivered its first two batches of
domestically made nuclear fuel to a Tehran research reactor.
If confirmed, Iran´s ability to run the reactor with its own fuel
could remove any basis for a mooted deal under which Iran would ship
most of its enriched uranium abroad in a swap for such fuel, reducing
its stocks of potential atom bomb material.
Tehran tentatively agreed to the swap in 2009 talks with the powers
but the deal collapsed over details of implementation. Iran´s foreign
minister had said last month it was willing to consider an updated
version of the idea.
Iran insists it wants nuclear energy only for electricity generation
and medical treatments, but has long defied U.N. resolutions calling
for a confidence-building suspension of uranium enrichment and
unfettered IAEA access.
U.S. analyst Graham Allison said Iran had been "cautiously, but
steadily, putting in place all the elements it needs to construct a
nuclear weapon in short order", but so far astutely stopped short of
a decision to do so.
"Any scenario that requires months between tripping the IAEA´s alarm
and testing a bomb would mean taking a huge risk of being attacked,
something Iran´s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has so far assiduously
avoided," Allison, director of Harvard University´s Belfer Center for
Science and International Affairs, said in an article for the
U.S. WIDENS ENERGY SANCTIONS
Cranking up pressure on Iran, the U.S. Senate on Monday extended
sanctions on its oil sector to cover dealings with the National
Iranian Oil Co and National Iranian Tanker Co to close a potential
loophole that could have allowed Tehran to continue selling some of
its petroleum using its own fleet.
As if the diplomatic challenges in Baghdad were not daunting enough,
the weather threatened to play havoc with the talks.
As delegations prepared to head for Iraq, Baghdad airport was closed
on Tuesday after a sandstorm blanketed the Iraqi capital in choking
dust, reducing visibility and grounding flights from neighboring
Jordan and the United Arab Emirates.
Iraq´s transport ministry said the sandstorm could last through
Friday, risking further disruptions to air traffic.
Jalili arrived on Monday night in Baghdad while Western delegations
were scheduled to arrive on Wednesday morning.
(Additional reporting by Marcus George in Dubai, Roberta Rampton in
Washington, Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem, Justyna Pawlak and Patrick
Markey in Baghdad and Zahra Hosseinian in Zurich; Writing by Mark
Heinrich; Editing by Ralph Boulton and Cynthia Osterman) (© Thomson
Reuters 2012. 05/22/12)
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