IAEA confirms talks to resume with Iran

IAEA confirms talks to resume with Iran

The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed Saturday that it will resume talks with Iran on Tehran’s nuclear programme in mid-May.

Iran’s envoy to the UN watchdog, Ali Asghar Soltanieh told the official news agency IRNA Friday that a new round of talks would be held in Vienna on May 13 and 14.

But IAEA spokeswoman Gill Tudor told AFP in an email Saturday that the talks would be a day later on May 14 and 15.

The watchdog said in late February that it “continues to have serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme.”

Its concerns reflect suspicions by the United States and its European allies that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapons capability under the cover of its civilian atomic programme.

But Soltanieh said the resumption of talks “once again proves Iran’s determination to cooperate with the agency, confirms that claims against Iran are baseless, and shows that all of the Islamic republic’s nuclear activities are peaceful.”

Separate talks between Iran and the so-called P5+1 group, comprising the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany, were revived this month in Istanbul and are to go to an important new round in Baghdad on May 23.

The IAEA-Iran discussions are expected to explore technical issues related to expanding inspections of Tehran’s nuclear activities.

Soltanieh said they would be aimed at “finding a framework and modality to respond to the (IAEA’s) questions.”

The last such discussions, in early February, ended in deadlock when an IAEA team visiting Tehran said it had been repeatedly refused permission to inspect the Parchin military site near Tehran.

The UN agency said it had information suggesting experiments on nuclear warhead design had been carried out there, in areas not inspected during a 2005 visit.

Iran says it is under no obligation to allow access to Parchin because the site is not a declared nuclear activities facility.

The UN Security Council has imposed four rounds of sanctions on Iran because of suspicions about its nuclear programme.

But the Los Angeles Times reported Friday the United States could let Iran partially enrich uranium in return for strict measures to curb its ability to build a nuclear bomb.

In what would be a major concession, Washington could agree to allow Tehran to enrich uranium up to five percent purity if the Islamic republic accepts strict oversight and safeguards, including unrestricted inspections of its nuclear sites, the newspaper said, citing US officials.

At present Iran has some 6,600 pounds (3,000 kilograms) of low-enriched uranium of 3.5-percent purity, but of greater concern is the country’s rapidly expanding capacity to enrich to 20 percent at its virtually impregnable Fordo site.

Western powers fear that if Iran were to take the decision to develop the bomb, it could relatively quickly reconfigure Fordo’s centrifuges to enrich to weapons-grade levels of 90 percent.

But the Times said a consensus has gradually emerged that the Iranians are unlikely to accept a complete halt to enrichment, and that the issue could prevent a negotiated deal to stop Iran’s programme short of a military attack.