U.N. nuclear watchdog and Iran agree - to talk more

VIENNA Tue May 15, 2012 5:28pm BST

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VIENNA (Reuters) - The United Nations' nuclear watchdog and Iran will meet again next week after a "good exchange of views" during two days of talks on the Islamic state's atomic programme, a senior U.N. official said on Tuesday.

The head of the Iranian delegation said progress was made in the meeting in Vienna which dealt with the U.N. agency's mounting concerns that Tehran may be seeking to develop the capability to develop nuclear weapons.

Neither side gave details about the content of the talks and they did not say if they discussed Iran granting U.N. inspectors access to its Parchin military site - where the watchdog suspects nuclear bomb-relevant research has been carried out.

The meeting tested Iran's readiness to address concerns over possible military aspects to its nuclear work - which it says is entirely peaceful - ahead of negotiations on the programme's future in Baghdad on May 23 between Tehran and six world powers.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had hoped the meeting would secure agreement on access to Iranian sites, documents and officials involved in suspected research that could be put to use producing nuclear explosives.

"The primary focus of our discussions was how to clarify issues related to possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear programme," IAEA Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts told reporters after two days of talks at an Iranian diplomatic mission in Vienna.

"We had a good exchange of views and we will meet again on Monday," Nackaerts added.

Iranian Ambassador Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, standing next to Nackaerts, said the two sides had had "fruitful discussions in a very conducive environment ... we have had progress."

"We decided that in order to continue this work towards conclusion we will have next week ... the next round of talks."

Western diplomats were watching the talks for any sign Iran is ready to make concrete concessions ahead of the encounter in Baghdad next week.

The IAEA, the U.N. agency tasked with preventing the spread of nuclear arms, said before the meeting that its priority was to visit the Parchin military complex where Iran may have conducted high-explosives tests relevant for developing atomic arms capability.

Iran, which rejects Western accusations it is seeking nuclear weapons, has resisted previous requests by the IAEA to go to Parchin, southeast of Tehran.

Western diplomats said before the meeting they would be "very surprised" if Iran suddenly opened up Parchin.

Israel, widely believed to hold the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, and the United States have not ruled out military action to prevent Iran from obtaining atomic bombs if they deem diplomacy has failed.

LOOKING TO BAGHDAD

An IAEA report last November found that Iran had built a large containment vessel at Parchin in 2000 to conduct tests that the U.N. agency said were "strong indicators of possible (nuclear) weapon development".

Western diplomats say they suspect Iran is cleaning the Parchin site to remove incriminating evidence.

One envoy told Reuters he had seen satellite imagery showing vehicles near the place the IAEA wants to see, and an apparent stream of water coming from the building.

Iran's Foreign Ministry has dismissed the allegations, saying nuclear activities cannot be washed away.

A Vienna-based expert who declined to be identified said it would be difficult, but not impossible, to clean possible traces of uranium or substitute materials from a site.

Two previous rounds of talks in Tehran this year with U.N. inspectors failed to make any notable progress, especially on their request to go to Parchin.

Iran and the powers involved in nuclear diplomacy - the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - revived negotiations in Istanbul last month after a 15-month hiatus and both sides say they hope for progress in Baghdad.

The resumption of diplomacy offers a chance to defuse tension that has led the United States and the European Union to try to block Iran's oil exports through sanctions, and increased worries about a new Middle East war.

(Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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