* UN atom agency to again press for visit at Friday talks
* Parchin may have been "cleansed" of nuclear evidence
* Iran denies illicit nuclear weapons research done there
By Ritsuko Ando and Fredrik Dahl
HELSINKI/VIENNA, Aug 22 The U.N. nuclear
watchdog chief played down chances of a breakthrough when talks
with Iran resume on Friday but said the agency would pursue
access to a military site that diplomats say may have been
cleansed of evidence of illicit nuclear activity.
Visiting the Parchin complex has become a priority for the
International Atomic Energy Agency as it seeks to end what the
West sees as Iranian stonewalling of an IAEA investigation into
allegations that Tehran has sought to design a nuclear weapon.
"I cannot be too optimistic ... We have been making our best
efforts in a constructive spirit to work out an agreement
between Iran and IAEA, but so far we have not been successful in
reaching agreement," agency Director General Yukiya Amano told
reporters on Wednesday during a visit to Finland.
"I have no indication this will change very soon," he said.
Citing satellite images, Western diplomats say Iran has
demolished some small buildings and moved earth at Parchin in an
apparent attempt to purge incriminating evidence from a site
where the IAEA believe tests in a steel chamber relevant to
nuclear arms were carried out, possibly a decade ago.
Amano said the IAEA still wanted access, but that apparent
efforts to sanitise Parchin could impede the agency's inquiry.
"Through the satellite imagery we think that Iran is moving
soil, demolishing buildings, using water, removing fences, doing
landscape activities. We think this would hamper our
verification activities," he said, echoing previous comments.
"Nevertheless we keep on requesting Iran to give us access
to the building at the site of Parchin."
Iran denies accusations that it wants to develop nuclear
arms technology, saying it is after civilian atomic energy only.
But its refusal to open up its nuclear work to unfettered
IAEA inspections that could pin down whether it is purely
peaceful or not has led to tougher international sanctions
against Iran and heightened speculation that Israel, Tehran's
arch-enemy, might bomb its nuclear sites as a last resort.
"I have heard that there is currently a lot of clean-up
going on at Parchin," one diplomat accredited to the IAEA said,
who like others said such activity came to light only after the
IAEA mentioned Parchin in a detailed report late last year.
Another diplomat told Reuters that he believed the Islamic
Republic would not allow access to Parchin "unless they are
extremely confident that there will be nothing found".
A U.S. think-tank, the Institute for Science and
International Security (ISIS), said this month that satellite
imagery of Parchin showed "what appears to be the final result
of considerable sanitisation and earth-displacement activity".
Iran says Parchin, about 30 km (20 miles) southeast of the
capital Tehran, is a conventional military site and has
dismissed allegations aired about it as "ridiculous".
Friday's IAEA-Iran talks in Vienna could offer a last-minute
chance for Tehran to influence the content of a pending agency
report on Iran if Iranian authorities were to offer concessions
regarding access to sites, documents and officials.
The latest quarterly report will be submitted to the
agency's 35-nation governing board, which convenes on Sept.
10-14 with Iran likely to again dominate the agenda.
Amano said the IAEA had not drawn any conclusions yet.
"We are not saying Iran has nuclear weapons, we are not
saying Iran has made a decision (to that end)," he said.
"(But) because pieces of information do indicate
activities..., we would like Iran to engage with us to clarify
these issues," he said, alluding to suspicions of possible
military dimensions to Tehran's atomic programme.
The IAEA made clear in earlier rounds of talks this year
that its overriding request is to go to Parchin.
Iran, for its part, says it must first agree a framework for
the IAEA's inquiry before possibly allowing access - a stance
dismissed by Western diplomats as delaying tactics.
Even if Iran did grant a visit to Parchin, U.N. inspectors
would probably uncover no hard evidence of nuclear arms-related
work, according to proliferation expert Mark Fitzpatrick at the
International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank.
"The clean-up probably could not totally remove uranium
particles, but they wouldn't be enriched and Iran would be able
to offer exculpatory explanations," Fitzpatrick told Reuters.