VIENNA: Iran said on Tuesday it would still address concerns about its nuclear programme, even though it missed a deadline last month for providing information about its suspected atomic bomb research.
Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency suggested his country had not fully implemented five nuclear transparency measures by Aug. 25, as agreed with the IAEA, in part because of the "complexity" of the issues involved.
Iranian and IAEA officials would meet soon again, perhaps by the end of September, Ambassador Reza Najafi told reporters.
Western diplomats have often accused Iran of stonewalling the IAEA, but Najafi said: "There is no deadlock. We are sure we can implement that ... We are ready to complete that."
An IAEA report showed on Friday that Iran had carried out only three of the five steps to help allay international fears about its nuclear programme, which the West suspects is working to develop nuclear weapons.
Iran, which has been promising to cooperate with the IAEA since Hassan Rouhani, seen as a pragmatist, was elected president last year, says the programme is peaceful.
The two issues that have not been fully addressed are alleged experiments on explosives that could be used for an atomic device, and studies related to calculating nuclear explosive yields.
A lack of progress in the IAEA probe would further complicate efforts by six world powers to negotiate a resolution to a wider, decade-old dispute with Iran and curb its nuclear work in exchange for a gradual ending of sanctions.
Western officials say Iran must address the IAEA's concerns and that, although there is no chance of the probe being completed before the scheduled end of the six-power talks, some of the sanctions relief Iran is seeking would probably depend on its cooperation with the IAEA.
It remains unclear, however, to what extent Iran must own up to any past illicit work as part of a broader diplomatic deal.
NO CHANCE OF KNOWING EVERYTHING
Some diplomats suggested the IAEA's investigation was unlikely to yield a "black-and-white" conclusion.
"I think the chances of us knowing everything are nil," one diplomat in Vienna, where the IAEA is based, said on Tuesday.
"It is highly unlikely that the Iranian authorities will open the door ... and give access to every single person and every single piece of information and every single site that the agency wants to see."
Another diplomat familiar with the Iran file said the inquiry could not go on forever, and at some point it would produce an assessment based on the information it had.
It would then be up to the IAEA board - with members including the United States, Russia and others - to decide on future action, the diplomat said. "This is not an endless process."
The IAEA report did say other transparency steps implemented by Iran - including access to some sites - had helped inspectors gain a "better understanding" of Iran's nuclear programme.
Rouhani's election raised hopes of a solution to the stand-off with the West after years of tension and fears of a new Middle East war, and an interim accord was reached between Iran and the six powers in Geneva in November last year.
But Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China did not meet a July target date for a comprehensive deal, and now face a new deadline of Nov. 24, with talks due to resume in New York this month.
"If Iran can't even meet pledges of cooperation with the IAEA, it's hard to see how it can it summon the collective political will to accept the kind of cutbacks in its nuclear programme that would be necessary for a deal," said Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the non-proliferation program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) think-tank.