Iranian and UN officials have held a “constructive” meeting on resuming a probe of allegations that Tehran has worked on atomic arms in talks seen as a test of pledges by Iran’s new president to reduce nuclear tensions.
The upbeat assessment and an agreement to meet again on October 28 was a departure from the deadlock left by previous meetings over nearly two years.
At issue are suspicions outlined in reports from the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran worked secretly on trying to develop nuclear weapons - something Tehran denies. As part of its probe, the agency is trying to gain access to a sector at Parchin, a sprawling military establishment southeast of Tehran.
Iran says it isn’t interested in atomic arms, but the agency suspects the site may have been used to test conventional explosive triggers meant to set off a nuclear blast. Under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran blamed the IAEA for the standoff, saying it is caused by the agency’s refusal to agree on strict parameters that would govern its probe.
The agency in turn said such an agreement would tie its hands by putting limits on what it could look for and whom it could question. It bases its suspicions of nuclear-weapons research and development by Iran on its own research and intelligence from the US, Israel and other Iran critics.
Neither side went into detail on Friday on what went into their positive assessment of the meeting in Vienna. But senior IAEA official Herman Nackaerts said it was “very constructive,” while Iranian envoy Reza Najafi spoke of a “constructive discussion.” Mr Nackaerts said the next round on October 28 would be “substantive.”
The meeting was closely watched by the US and its allies as a test of whether Hassan Rouhani, Mr Ahmadinejad’s successor, was ready to deliver on promises that he sought to end Iran’s nuclear standoff with the international community.
Its positive outcome was the latest in a series of encouraging developments along that line.
On Thursday, the US and its five negotiating partners emerged from a separate meeting with Iran declaring that a “window of opportunity has opened” to peacefully settle their nuclear standoff.
Both sides agreed to a new round of talks on October 15-16 in Geneva, where Tehran will seek relief from crippling sanctions and the six nations will press Iran to scale back an atomic programme that could be re-engineered from peaceful purposes to producing weapons.
In contrast to Mr Ahmadinejad, Mr Rouhani has come across as a more moderate face of the hard-line clerical regime in Tehran and his pronouncements at this week’s UN General Assembly have raised guarded hopes that progress might be possible.
But he has steadfastly maintained that any nuclear agreement must recognise Iran’s right under international treaties to continue enriching uranium. Iran now is enriching below the level used as the core of nuclear missiles.
The IAEA-Iran talks are separate from negotiations between Tehran and the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. But with both sides at the Vienna talks speaking of progress, expectations appeared to be building for headway at a November 15-16 meeting between Iran and the six world powers in Geneva.