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Iran nuclear talks: negotiators cite progress ahead of Baghdad meeting

Two days of UN-IAEA talks in Vienna signal some flexibility on both sides ahead of key nuclear meeting in Baghdad next week.

By Staff Writer / May 15, 2012

Herman Nackaerts, deputy director general and head of the Department of Safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), speaks to journalists as he arrives for talks with at the permanent mission of Iran in Vienna, Tuesday.

Ronald Zak/AP

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Istanbul, Turkey

Negotiators from Iran and the UN's nuclear watchdog agency have made enough progress during two days of technical talks in Vienna that they will resume next Monday.

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The unexpected result indicates that there has been some flexibility from both Iran and UN nuclear negotiators regarding access to a military base at Parchin and agreement on a plan to resolve all questions about allegations of weapons work.

The Monday meeting is set to occur just two days before Iran sits down with world powers for much broader, geostrategic nuclear negotiations in Baghdad. Analysts and officials had said progress in Vienna would raise chances of success in Baghdad.

"The primary focus of our discussion was how to clarify issues related to possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear program," Herman Nackaerts, the International Atomic Energy Agency deputy director general, said after the talks. "We had a good exchange of views."

Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltaniyeh, said both sides had "fruitful discussions in a very conducive environment ... we have had progress."

Opening Parchin without a fuller agreement – something Iran refused to do despite two requests earlier this year – may still remain elusive before the Baghdad talks unless Iran gets a detailed framework for resolving all other outstanding issues. "They just don't want to concede this before they get what they want on other parts of the discussion," says Peter Jenkins, a former British permanent representative to the IAEA from 2001 to 2006.

Iran's wider goal is to ensure that in the future, "they are not going to continually have exploited against them every will-of-the-wisp [allegation]," says Mr. Jenkins. "It's not altogether satisfactory the way one member state comes up with allegations and then the IAEA turns these virtually into accusations and says to the Iranians: 'Prove to us you are innocent.' "

Last November, the IAEA reported that a large containment vessel was built at Parchin in 2000 that may have been used for high explosive tests that would be "strong indicators of possible weapon development."

Iran has dismissed those allegations as "childish" and "ridiculous," but said new arrangements were necessary to visit the military base. It is not a declared nuclear site and was already inspected twice in 2005, though not the structure currently under suspicion.

But IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano has singled out Parchin as a test case, in an unconventional move that has surprised former IAEA officials.

Parchin "has become like a symbol," Mr. Amano told Michael Adler, an expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center, in recent days. "We'll pursue this objective until there's a concrete result.... We don't see the reason why they cannot grant us access to Parchin."

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