Iran upbeat on nuclear talks, but stalemate remains
VIENNA (Reuters) - There was no sign of movement in the deadlock between Iran and the U.N. nuclear watchdog over Tehran's atomic activities Tuesday despite an upbeat assessment by the Islamic state's foreign minister.
Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said he held "very fruitful" discussions with Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and they had agreed to explore ways to help resolve outstanding issues.
He said experts will seek to create a "new mechanism" to improve cooperation between the U.N. body and Tehran, which is facing intensifying Western sanctions pressure.
But the IAEA gave a different picture, saying in a brief statement that Amano had "reiterated the agency's position on the issues where Iran is not meeting its obligations."
The IAEA has voiced growing concern in the past year about suspicions that Iran may be seeking to develop a nuclear-armed missile. The U.N. agency has repeatedly called on Tehran to engage with it to help ease such concerns.
For several years, the IAEA has been investigating Western intelligence reports indicating Iran has coordinated efforts to process uranium, test explosives at high altitude and revamp a ballistic missile cone so it could take a nuclear warhead.
Iran says the allegations are baseless and forged, and that its nuclear program is aimed at producing electricity.
"If we wanted nuclear weapons then we would have left the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty)," Salehi said. "We believe that atomic weapons are damaging to the international community."
Iran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment -- an activity that can have both civilian and military purposes -- has led to four rounds of U.N. sanctions on the major oil producer, as well as tighter U.S. and European Union restrictions.
Diplomatic efforts to find a solution to a dispute that has the potential to spark a Middle East conflict have stalled, after talks between Iran and six world powers half a year ago failed to make any progress.
Salehi said "very positive" conclusions were reached in his meeting with Amano. But he gave few details and there was no indication that Iran would be ready to heed demands to curb enrichment and be more transparent about its nuclear work.
He suggested Iran would be willing to discuss the allegations about suspected military-linked nuclear activities only if the Vienna-based IAEA first declared that a work plan dating back to 2007 had been finalised.
Iran says it has answered all points raised under the plan agreed with the U.N. agency four years ago to help clarify the nature of Tehran's nuclear program.
But the IAEA says Iran has failed to cooperate with it over allegations of possible military links to its atomic activities.
"The director general (Amano) indicated that he is not in a position at this stage to consider the work plan to be completed," the agency's statement said.
Western diplomats have often accused Iran of deploying stalling tactics in the nuclear dispute with major powers, including the United States, China and Russia, to buy more time while it pushes ahead with its disputed activities.
Amano has taken a blunter approach towards Iran than his predecessor Mohamed ElBaradei. Iran has accused Amano, a veteran Japanese diplomat, of taking orders from Washington.
Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, who met Salehi separately in Vienna, said Europe remained ready to return to the negotiating table with Iran. "It is important for us to overcome the stalemate that exists in the talks," he said.
(Editing by Robert Woodward)
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