VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran’s talks with the U.N. nuclear watchdog about Tehran’s atomic activities are going well, a senior Iranian official said on Tuesday, the second day of discussions.
The talks will test Iran’s readiness to address U.N. inspectors’ concerns over military links to its nuclear work, ahead of wider diplomatic negotiations on the programme’s future in Baghdad next week between Tehran and world powers.
The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) aims at the meeting in Vienna to gain access to Iranian sites, documents and officials involved in suspected research activity that could be used to develop atomic bombs.
“We had good talks. Everything is (on the) right track. The environment is very constructive,” Ali Asghar Soltanieh told reporters as he entered an Iranian diplomatic mission to continue the meeting with the Vienna-based IAEA.
Western diplomats will be watching the talks for any sign Iran is ready to make concrete concessions, saying this would send a positive message ahead of the meeting in Baghdad on May 23 between Iran and Western powers.
But Soltanieh’s public optimism was not matched by the head of the IAEA delegation, Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts, when senior agency experts arrived at the venue.
“You will understand I cannot make any comments now. The discussions are obviously continuing today,” Nackaerts said.
The IAEA, the U.N. agency tasked with preventing the spread of nuclear arms in the world, has made clear that its priority is to visit a military site where Iran may have conducted high-explosives test relevant for developing atomic arms capability.
Iran, which rejects Western accusations it is seeking nuclear weapons, has resisted previous requests by the IAEA to go to the Parchin complex southeast of Tehran.
The issue was expected to be raised during the talks in the Austrian capital, but a Western diplomat said he would be “very surprised” if Iran suddenly granted access to Parchin, suggesting he did not expect major progress.
Israel, widely believed to hold the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal, and the United States have not ruled out military action to prevent Iran from obtaining atomic bombs if diplomacy fails to achieve this goal peacefully.
An IAEA report last November found that Iran had built a large containment vessel in 2000 at the Parchin site in which to conduct tests that the U.N. agency said were “strong indicators of possible (nuclear) weapon development”.
It said a building was constructed “around a large cylindrical object”. An earth berm between the building containing the cylinder and a neighbouring building indicated the probable use of high explosives in the chamber.
The IAEA said it had obtained satellite images that were consistent with this information. The vessel was designed to contain the detonation of up to 70 kg of high explosives.
Western diplomats say they suspect Iran is now cleaning the Parchin site to remove incriminating evidence.
One envoy told Reuters he had seen satellite imagery showing vehicles near the place the IAEA wants to see, and an apparent stream of water coming from the building. “It is credible...compelling,” the diplomat said about the suspicions.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry has dismissed the allegations, saying nuclear activities cannot be washed away.
A Vienna-based expert who declined to be identified said it would be difficult, but not impossible, to clean possible traces of uranium or surrogate materials from a site.
Two previous rounds of talks in Tehran this year with U.N. inspectors failed to make any notable progress, especially on their request to go to Parchin.
Iran and the powers involved in nuclear diplomacy - the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - revived negotiations in Istanbul last month after a 15-month hiatus and both sides say they hope for progress in Baghdad.
The resumption of diplomacy offers a chance to defuse tension that has led the United States and the European Union to try to block Iran’s oil exports through sanctions, and increased worries about a new Middle East war.
Editing by Jon Boyle