U.N. nuclear inspectors in Iran, no sign of Parchin visit

DUBAI Thu Dec 13, 2012 12:26pm GMT

Herman Nackaerts, head of a delegation of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), speaks to media at the airport in Vienna on his way to Iran December 12, 2012. REUTERS/Herwig Prammer

Herman Nackaerts, head of a delegation of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), speaks to media at the airport in Vienna on his way to Iran December 12, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Herwig Prammer

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DUBAI (Reuters) - Inspectors from the U.N. nuclear watchdog were in Tehran on Thursday for talks on Iran's disputed nuclear programme, but there was no sign they would gain access to the Parchin military complex as requested.

The Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA) said "no plans were announced yet for inspectors to visit Iran's nuclear facilities or other sites", without giving a source.

Thursday's talks are the first such meeting between the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran since August.

The meeting could give some indication whether Iran - which denies it wants to develop nuclear weapons - is more willing to address international concerns over its nuclear programme after U.S. President Barack Obama's re-election last month.

Israel has threatened military action if diplomacy and economic sanctions intended to halt Iran's uranium enrichment programme fail to resolve the longstanding dispute.

ISNA said the seven-member IAEA delegation headed by Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts would meet Iranian nuclear officials. There was no word on whether talks had begun a few hours after the inspectors arrived in the Iranian capital.

The visit was not even mentioned by state television's main midday news broadcast.

The IAEA wants an agreement that would enable its inspectors to visit a military complex, Parchin, and other sites that it suspects may be linked to what it has called the "possible military dimensions" to Iran's nuclear programme.

The Vienna-based nuclear watchdog believes Iran has conducted explosives tests with possible nuclear applications at Parchin, a sprawling facility southeast of Tehran, and has repeatedly asked for access.

Iran says Parchin is a conventional military site and has dismissed allegations that it has tried to clean up the site before any visit.

RECONSTRUCTION AT PARCHIN?

Western diplomats have said Iran has carried out extensive work at Parchin over the past year - including demolition of buildings and removal of soil - to cleanse it of any traces of illicit activity. But the IAEA said a visit would still be "useful."

A U.S.-based think-tank said new satellite imagery showed "what appears to be the 'reconstruction' phase" of the site at Parchin that the IAEA wants to visit, following "considerable alterations" there earlier in the year.

"A new site layout is taking shape and the presence of dirt piles and a considerable number of earth moving vehicles and cars suggest that construction is continuing at a steady pace," the Institute for Science and International Security said late on Wednesday.

It said imagery dated December 9 indicated a new, almost completed security perimeter around the site: "Notable are further changes to the two major buildings at the site which appear to have been covered with white or grey roofing."

When he left Vienna on Wednesday, Nackaerts said the team hoped to gain access to Parchin. Other members of the delegation carried what appeared to be cases of inspection equipment.

The IAEA's talks with Iran are separate from - but closely linked to - efforts by six countries to resolve the decade-long nuclear dispute.

On Wednesday, senior European Union and Iranian diplomats discussed the timing and venue of possible new talks between Iran and Britain, France, Germany, United States, Russia and China.

Western diplomats have said a new round could be scheduled as soon as January, but there has been no confirmation yet.

The Western powers are particularly concerned about Iran enriching uranium to 20 percent fissile purity, an important technological advance that brings it significantly closer to the threshold of weapons-grade material. They also want Iran to cooperate fully with the IAEA.

Refined uranium can fuel nuclear power plants, Iran's stated aim, or provide material for weapons if processed further, which the West suspects is Tehran's ultimate goal.

(Reporting by Zahra Hosseinian and Fredrik Dahl. Editing by Jane Merriman)

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