Iran calls IAEA visit a 'positive forward step'

An IAEA team left Iran today after three days of discussion with Iranian officials with an announcement that a follow-up visit would happen soon.

Ronald Zak/AP
Herman Nackaerts, Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Safeguards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is interviewed as he arrives after his flight from Iran at Vienna's Schwechat airport, Austria, Wednesday.

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As a UN nuclear agency team departed Iran Wednesday, team leader Herman Nackaerts said the agency and Iran are "committed to resolve all the outstanding issues" and that a follow-up visit is in the "very near future." The visit was the International Atomic Energy Agency's first since it released a report in which it charged that Iran had conducted nuclear weapons work in the past, setting off a wave of international actions against the Islamic Republic. 

The IAEA team held three days of discussions with Iranian officials about Iran's nuclear program, but did not visit any nuclear sites. The discussions were Iran's first formal opportunity to rebut the weapon development allegations, which it has previously dismissed.

Reuters reports that in the past, Western diplomats have accused Iran of using dialogue to stall while it continues work with its nuclear program.

While Mr. Nackaerts did not speak after the trip about the content of the discussions, prior to the trip diplomats said that the main goal was to overcome resistance to discussing allegations that Iran previously pursued a nuclear weapons program, the Associated Press reports. Iran insists that its nuclear program is intended for electricity generation.

Any progress on the issue would be significant. Iran has refused to discuss the alleged weapons experiments for more than three years, saying they are based on “fabricated documents” provided by a “few arrogant countries” — a phrase authorities in Iran often use to refer to the United States and its allies.

The IAEA team was seeking progress on its efforts to talk to key Iranian scientists suspected of working on a weapons program. They also hoped to break down opposition to their plans to inspect documents related to nuclear work and secure commitments from Iranian authorities to allow future visits.

The timing of this visit made it a critical meeting – another IAEA report is coming out in a few weeks, the US and European Union have both imposed unprecedentedly strong sanctions on Iran targeting its central bank and its oil exports, and talk of a US-Israeli war against Iran has gained traction. Iran indicated it would be more cooperative than it has been in the past, the Monitor reports.

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CNN reports that Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi called the talks "a positive forward step" and said that had the delegation wanted to inspect the nuclear sites, Iran would have complied, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.

Despite a UN requirement that Iran put on hold all enrichment activity until it addresses the IAEA's concerns, Mr. Salehi announced earlier this week that in "coming months" it would turn its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium into fuel for its "small medical reactor" in Tehran, the Monitor reports. The process is a difficult one requiring "significant technical know-how."

Meanwhile, discussion in Iran about stopping its oil exports to "some" countries continues. A parliamentary debate on whether to halt exports to the European Union, which approved an embargo on Iranian oil earlier this month, has been postponed, Reuters reports.

Iran's counter-embargo would halt oil exports to the EU long before it intends to stop importing Iranian oil. EU member states have been given several months to comply with the embargo in order to avoid sending any shocks to their fragile economies. An earlier end to Iranian oil could be very damaging to some European countries.

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