UN Inspectors to Meet Iran Over Access to Dispute Sites

The United Nations nuclear chief isn’t optimistic that a meeting with Iran this week will yield access to disputed documents, people and sites allegedly linked to the Persian Gulf country’s nuclear program.

A “high-level” meeting between International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors and Iran will be held Aug. 24 at Iran’s embassy in Vienna, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said today at a press briefing in Helsinki. It is the first face-to-face discussion since talks over a so-called structured approach to the atomic investigation broke down in June.

“I can’t be too optimistic, but I’m fully committed to finding a solution,” Amano said. “I have no indication that the issue is closer to being solved. The important thing is that we keep on putting effort into solving it with diplomatic measures.”

The last meeting between Iran and the IAEA collapsed on June 8. Inspectors want access to sites inside Iran beyond what is mandated by the IAEA’s agreements with the country. While Iran’s declared nuclear facilities have been subject to about 4,000 man-days of inspections since 2003, the agency has repeatedly said it cannot ensure inspectors have seen the full scope of the country’s atomic work.

The U.S. and other Western nations accuse Iran of working to develop nuclear weapons while Iran says its atomic program is for peaceful purposes.

Sixth Round

“Expectations are fairly low,” Mark Hibbs, a nuclear analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said in a telephone interview from London. “If the agency and Iran are going to reach an agreement, it would mean the Iranians would have to make considerable concessions.”

Negotiators will try to find a way “to resolve outstanding issues relating to Iran’s nuclear program,” the IAEA said. The Vienna-based agency’s top atomic inspector, Herman Nackaerts, along with the assistant director general for policy, Mariano Grossi, are due to attend the meeting with Iranian officials.

It will be the sixth round of talks since the IAEA and Iran began negotiations over widening access to suspect facilities. Amano announced an agreement on May 22, only to have the breakthrough fall apart two weeks later amid Iranian accusations of spying.

Commercial satellite images show Iran has completed cleanup activity at a suspected nuclear weapons-related site, the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security wrote in a July 31 report. The IAEA received intelligence information from member states that allegedly show Iran built a blast chamber at the Parchin military complex that could be used to test nuclear-bomb components.

‘Hamper Inspections’

“We think that Iran is moving soil, removing tents, doing landscape activities, and I think this could hamper our inspection activities,” Amano said, adding that the agency hasn’t drawn a conclusion that Iran was working on atomic weapons. “It is in the interest of Iran to clarify these issues.”

The IAEA is expected to release its quarterly report on the Islamic Republic before its 35-member board of governors meets Sept. 10 in the Austrian capital.

“The IAEA wouldn’t have been comfortable reporting to the board that there’s been no further engagement with Iran since June,” Hibbs said. “If the agency reports to the board that there’s been no progress, then that plays into the hands of people in Israel pushing for an attack.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Aug. 1 that time “is running out” for a peaceful solution to Iran’s atomic program. The Tel Aviv-based Haaretz newspaper reported on Aug. 10 that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are considering bombing Iran’s atomic sites before U.S. elections on Nov. 6.

Iran is prepared for an Israeli assault, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said today, adding that the threats are more “psychological and propaganda” than serious, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

“We take any trivial threat seriously and are ready to respond to any attack,” Salehi said, according to IRNA. “This doesn’t mean the threats are serious.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Jonathan Tirone in Vienna at jtirone@bloomberg.net; Kasper Viita in Helsinki at kviita1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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