Middle East

No breakthrough in Amano’s Tehran talks

Amano speaks during a news conference in Tehran as Jalili looks on.

VIENNA/DUBAI: The U.N. nuclear watchdog chief held extensive and useful talks in Iran Monday and expects them to have a positive impact on a six-power meeting with Tehran later this week, Iranian media said, but there was no sign of a breakthrough deal.

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano paid a rare visit to Tehran after voicing hope for Iranian agreement to cooperate with an IAEA investigation into suspected atomic bomb research – a possible gesture from Tehran to try to get international sanctions relaxed and deflect threats of war.

Amano met the head of Iran’s nuclear energy agency, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, and its top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, who will sit down in Baghdad Wednesday with world powers seeking overall curbs on Iran’s disputed atomic activity.

“[Monday’s] negotiations were very useful. We held expanded and intensive negotiations in a good atmosphere,” Amano was quoted as saying by the website of Iranian state TV.

“Definitely, the progress of [these] talks will have a positive impact on negotiations between Iran and the P5+1. Of course these are two different issues but they can strengthen each other,” he was quoted as saying.

Asked about a framework agreement that would resolve questions over the nature of Iran’s nuclear quickly, Amano added: “I will not go into details but the agency has some viewpoints and Iran has its own specific viewpoints.”

There was no indication that Iran had addressed Amano’s overriding priority – a deal to obtain access for IAEA investigators to Iranian sites, nuclear scientists and documents needed to check intelligence suggesting that Tehran has pursued covert research relevant to developing nuclear bombs.

There was no immediate comment from the IAEA.

Jalili said after the talks that Iran was “a serious supporter of ... global disarmament, confronting the spread of nuclear weapons and the usage of peaceful nuclear technology for [Non-Proliferation Treaty] member states,” the television said.

“Today we have good negotiations with Amano on these three fields and we hope to have good cooperation with the agency in the future in these areas,” Jalili said.

Amano was on his first trip to Iran since taking office in 2009, a period marked by rising IAEA-Iranian tension.

“I really think this is the right time to reach agreement. Nothing is certain but I stay positive,” Amano, a veteran Japanese diplomat, said Sunday on departure from Vienna.

“Good progress” had already been made, he added.

Amano scheduled Monday’s talks with Iran at such short notice that diplomats said a deal on improved IAEA access might be near. But few saw Tehran going far enough to convince the West to roll back swiftly on punitive sanctions when Jalili meets global power envoys in Baghdad Wednesday.

“We are not going to do anything concrete in exchange for nice words,” a Western diplomat said of the Baghdad meeting, the outcome of a big power session with Iran in Istanbul last month that ended a diplomatic freeze of more than a year.

Jalili will hold talks in the Iraqi capital with Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief heading a six-power coalition comprised of the five U.N. Security Council permanent members – the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China – plus Germany.

By dangling the prospect of enhanced cooperation with U.N. inspectors, diplomats say, Iran might aim for leverage for the broader talks where the United States and its allies want Tehran to curb works they say are a cover for developing atomic bombs.

Pressure for a deal has risen. Escalating Western sanctions on Iran’s economically vital energy exports, and threats by Israel and the United States of last-ditch military action, have pushed up world oil prices, compounding the economic misery wrought by debt crises in many industrialized countries.

Some diplomats and analysts had said Amano, given a recent history of mistrustful relations with Iran, would go to Tehran only if he believed a framework agreement to give his inspectors freer hands in their investigation was close. Iran has been stonewalling IAEA requests for better access for four years.

The U.N. watchdog is seeking access to sites, nuclear officials and scientists and documents to shed light on work in Iran applicable to developing the capability to make nuclear weapons, especially the Parchin military complex outside Tehran.

Two meetings between Iran and senior Amano aides in Tehran in January and February failed to produce any notable progress. But both sides were more upbeat after another round of talks in Vienna last week, raising hopes for a deal.

“We need to keep up the momentum. There has been good progress during the recent round of discussions between Iran and the IAEA,” Amano said before leaving for Tehran.

Such a deal would also not be enough in itself to allay international concerns. World powers want Iran to curb uranium enrichment, which can yield fuel for nuclear power plants or for nuclear bombs, depending on the level of refinement.

Iran, to general disbelief from its Israeli and Western adversaries, insists its nuclear program is intended only to generate electricity in a country that is one of world’s top oil exporters and to produce isotopes for cancer treatment.

In Baghdad, the powers’ main goal is to get Iran to stop the higher-grade uranium enrichment it started two years ago and has since expanded, shortening the time needed for any weapons bid.

Iran says it needs uranium enriched 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.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 22, 2012, on page 9.

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