Iran Breakthrough With Atomic Monitors Seen Unlikely

Iran’s eagerness to resolve the stalemate over its disputed nuclear work is unlikely to yield any immediate outcome in negotiations with atomic monitors seeking more access to the program, arms-control analysts said.

The Persian Gulf nation is meeting with International Atomic Energy Agency officials today in Vienna, with both sides sending new negotiators to the talks. Iran’s envoy, Reza Najafi, and the IAEA’s new chief inspector, Tero Varjoranta, are conferring for the first time.

“Nobody should expect that in a one-day meeting we can solve our problems,” Najafi told reporters before entering Iran’s embassy in Vienna today. “We expect to review the existing issues and also exchange views on the way we can continue our cooperation.”

Iran and the IAEA have been negotiating since January 2012 over an agreement that would allow inspectors access to sites, including a key army installation alleged to have housed undeclared atomic work. While the agency routinely verifies that Iran hasn’t diverted any of its declared nuclear stockpile for weapons, it published information in November 2011 that Iran may have worked on an atomic-bomb trigger at its Parchin military complex 20 kilometers (12 miles) southeast of Tehran.

The U.S. and its allies accuse Iran of seeking nuclear weapons, a charge repeatedly denied by the Persian Gulf nation, home to the world’s fourth-biggest proven oil reserves. President Hassan Rouhani’s election in August lowered crude oil prices on speculation tensions may ease over the nation’s nuclear program.

Like-Minded Group

The IAEA yesterday published a letter received from Iran on Sept. 12 detailing the grievances that the country has about the investigation. It criticized the agency’s probe into non-nuclear related matters like missile technology and reiterated that it must see the IAEA’s evidence before it can respond.

“It is more likely that a first meeting between two new representatives will be a getting-to-know-each-other and stock-taking meeting than the occasion for surprise,” said Peter Jenkins, who was the U.K.’s ambassador to the IAEA when Rouhani was the country’s nuclear negotiator. “A breakthrough is unlikely.”

Foreign ministers from the U.S. and five other powers met Iran’s top diplomat, Javad Zarif, yesterday in New York. While the talks went well, the test will come when those negotiations resume in Geneva Oct. 15, the diplomats said.

‘Like Minded’

“The president, the foreign minister and myself are a group that is a like-minded group,” said Ali Akbar Salehi, the nation’s ex-foreign minister now in charge of Iran’s atomic work, at a Sept. 16 meeting in Vienna. We “will facilitate the resolution of this issue if the other side is willing.”

In its last report, the IAEA said Iran needs to stop trying to hinder its investigation by seeking to impose conditions on inspectors work. The agency wants to be able to control the sharing of evidence it has received from other countries as well as retain the right to prolong some of its inquiries, the Aug. 28 document said.

“The key is for Iran to drop its earlier effort to place limitations on the agency’s proposed work plan,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association, in an e-mail.

Beyond Atmospherics

Iran has in the past accused the IAEA of acting on the behalf of Western powers and aiding saboteurs who have targeted its nuclear program. The country has altered the landscape around some parts of the suspected Parchin site, according to the IAEA, which based its finding on satellite-imagery analysis.

While Rouhani and President Barack Obama indirectly exchanged words aimed at soothing tensions on Sept. 24 at the United Nations in New York, their statements have yet to be backed by action.

“Neither Obama nor Rouhani’s speeches at the UN proved to have much new in them beyond atmospherics,” Paul Ingram, executive director of the London-based British-American Security Information Council, said in an interview. “While the atmospherics are welcome, we need to pass through them quickly to agreements. This window might not stay open forever.”

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