TEHRAN - UN atomic watchdog experts arrived in Iran on Thursday to renew efforts to engage Tehran over its disputed nuclear programme, but media reports said an inspection visit to suspect sites was off the agenda.
The seven-strong International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team was scheduled to hold closed-door sessions with officials during its one-day stop in the Iranian capital, the ISNA news agency reported.
“If the talks are progressing constructively, the IAEA team will be able to stay as long as necessary,” a Vienna-based diplomat told AFP.
Iranian media outlets kept quiet on the visit and no details of the talks were released.
The IAEA says the talks aim to reach agreement on a “structured approach” for Tehran to address allegations of weaponisation and for the watchdog to gain broader access to Iran’s nuclear sites and people working in the programme.
The agency also wants to inspect Parchin, a restricted military complex near Tehran where the IAEA suspects experiments with explosives capable of triggering a nuclear weapon could have been carried out.
“We also hope that Iran will allow us to go to the site of Parchin, and if Iran would grant us access we would welcome that chance and we are ready to go,” team leader chief inspector Herman Nackaerts told reporters at Vienna airport on Wednesday before leaving for the Islamic republic.
But ISNA said, without giving a source, that “for now no inspection or visit” for the IAEA team of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure or “other sites” was on the agenda. It did not elaborate. The IAEA visited Parchin twice in 2005. But it accuses Tehran of carrying out clean-up operations at the base to undermine its efforts to probe possible past nuclear weapons research work, an allegation Iran denies.
Thursday’s talks are the latest in a string of fruitless meetings this year between Iran and the IAEA, with the latest in August in the Austrian capital.
One Vienna diplomat said that the team in Tehran is larger than in past visits in February and in May, and now included two “technical experts” who could conduct verification work at Parchin - if invited to do so.
Iran denies seeking or ever having sought the bomb and has refused the IAEA access to Parchin, saying that as a non-nuclear site the agency has no right to conduct inspections there. Foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said on Tuesday the visit would focus on discussions regarding “Iran’s nuclear rights as well as its peaceful nuclear activities.”
But “certain issues that have possibly become a source of concern for (IAEA) officials can also be discussed,” he said, without being more specific.
Subject to international sanctions, Iran rejects as baseless suspicions by Western governments and echoed by the IAEA that it intends to develop a nuclear weapons capability under the guise of its energy programme. Tehran stresses that IAEA demands to examine Parchin exceed Iran’s obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to which it is a signatory. The inspectors’ visit also came against the backdrop of renewed efforts by world powers engaging Iran over its nuclear programme to discuss possible dates and venues for a new meeting to resolve the dispute.
The P5 + 1 - the US, Russia, China, France and Britain plus Germany - are hoping to agree with Iran “rapidly” on a new meeting, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in Brussels.