IAEA Presses Iran Ahead of P5+1 Talks

Posted May 14th, 2012 at 3:30 pm (UTC-5)
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The U.N. nuclear agency has again urged Iran to give it access to sites, people and documents it seeks as part of its probe into whether Tehran is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Ahead of the opening session between the two sides in Vienna Monday, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency delegation, Hermann Nackaerts, told reporters that they were continuing their dialogue with Iran in “a positive spirit.”

One major issue on the agenda for the two days of talks is the IAEA's lack of access to Iran's Parchin military site near Tehran.

Officials suspect Iran has built a container that could house nuclear explosives tests there, and Western diplomats accuse Tehran of trying to remove incriminating evidence before allowing U.N. inspectors inside the facility. Iran has dismissed the allegations as being “childish” and “ridiculous.”

The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany are following the Vienna meeting closely, ahead of their talks next week with Iranian officials in Baghdad. The so-called P5+1 countries – in addition to Germany, the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China – are seeking to assess the possible military capability of Iran's nuclear sites.

Western powers have long suspected Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian energy program. Tehran denies the allegations.

Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies tells VOA that he expects Iran to continue stonewalling the IAEA, which he says could “cast a pall” over the Baghdad meeting.

But if Tehran cooperates with the U.N. agency, Fitzpatrick says there is reason to hope that some sort of interim agreement might emerge from Baghdad that could “at least lower the [political] temperature.” He says this could alleviate the “great pressure” Iran has been feeling under multiple rounds of international sanctions.

On Monday, The Washington Post newspaper quoted unnamed U.S. officials as saying Iran has been routinely switching off satellite tracking systems on its oil tankers since early April in an effort to circumvent sanctions. The tactics are only modestly effective in hiding the massive tankers. Iran relies on oil exports for the majority of its foreign currency earnings.

The newspaper reports that the International Energy Agency is closely watching the situation, which if true, also would be a violation of maritime law.