U.N. nuclear watchdog begins Tehran talks to secure access deal

Wed Jan 16, 2013 7:57am EST
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DUBAI (Reuters) - Senior U.N. nuclear watchdog officials began talks in Iran on Wednesday to nail down an elusive deal for access to pursue a long-stalled investigation into suspected military dimensions to the Iranian nuclear programme.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, whose mission is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, has been trying for a year to negotiate a so-called structured approach with Tehran that would give it access to officials, documents and sites.

Iran's ISNA news agency reported the start of the talks at Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation headquarters in Tehran.

World powers will monitor the IAEA-Iran talks for any signs as to whether Tehran, facing intensifying sanctions pressure, may be prepared to finally start tackling mounting international concerns about its nuclear activity.

The six powers - the United States, France, Germany, China, Russia and Britain - and Iran may later in January resume their separate negotiations to try and reach a broader diplomatic settlement. They last met in June.

Israel - a U.S. ally believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal - has threatened military action if diplomacy and economic sanctions intended to rein in Iran's uranium enrichment programme do not resolve the stand-off.

The IAEA's immediate priority was to visit the Parchin military base southeast of Tehran, where it suspects explosives tests relevant for production of nuclear weapons may have taken place, perhaps a decade ago, accusations Tehran denies.

Western diplomats say Iran has worked for the past year to remove any incriminating evidence from Parchin, but IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said late last year a visit would still be useful.

Before leaving Vienna, IAEA Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts said he was looking to finalize the agreement with Iran during the visit and that his team was ready to visit Parchin immediately if access were granted.   Continued...

Herman Nackaerts, head of a delegation of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), speaks to media before departing for Iran, at the airport in Vienna January 15, 2013. REUTERS/Herwig Prammer