VIENNA - UN inspectors and Iran failed again in talks this
week to revive an investigation into suspected nuclear arms research by Tehran,
a setback for diplomatic efforts to resolve the atomic dispute with the Islamic
Herman Nackaerts, deputy director general of the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said on Friday after returning from
Tehran that his inspectors had not been granted the access they have long sought
to a military site.
A further round of negotiations was scheduled for
February 12, he said, more than a year after the IAEA and Iran held their first in a
series of so far largely fruitless meetings.
In a separate note sent to
the IAEA's member states about the negotiations over Wednesday and Thursday, the
UN agency said "important differences" between the two sides
The absence of a breakthrough, which would help allay
international suspicions over Iranian nuclear ambitions, will disappoint world
powers seeking a broader diplomatic settlement with Iran that would avert the
threat of a new Middle East war.
The Vienna-based IAEA made its best
efforts to find a compromise and "one has to question whether there is any
political will in Tehran to reach an agreement or whether they are just trying
to buy time," one Western envoy said.
The IAEA's attempts to resume its
long-blocked investigation in Iran are separate from but still related to
negotiations between Tehran and six world powers, known as the P5+1, that may
resume later this month after a seven-month hiatus.
The IAEA, whose
mandate is to forestall the spread of atomic weapons, has been trying for a year
to negotiate a so-called structured approach with Iran giving its inspectors
access to sites, officials and documents for their inquiry.
pressing of the UN agency's concerns is to inspect the Parchin military
complex southeast of Tehran where it believes explosives tests of use in
developing nuclear weapons may have been carried out, something Iran
"We had two days of intensive discussions," Nackaerts told
reporters at Vienna airport. "We could not finalize the structured approach to
resolve the outstanding issues regarding possible military dimensions of Iran's
nuclear program." He gave no details. But one big sticking point has been
Iran's insistence that each separate issue in the inquiry is declared closed
once Tehran has addressed it, while the IAEA wants the flexibility to return to
it if new evidence emerges.
"We have been very skeptical that Iran will
ever allow this discussion to conclude. From Iran's point of view the status quo
is fine," a Vienna-based diplomat said.
There was no immediate comment
from Iran, but it has often said it is ready to clarify any "ambiguities" about
its nuclear program, which Tehran says is entirely peaceful.
said as he left Vienna for Tehran on Tuesday that he hoped for immediate access
to Parchin, where Western diplomats suspect Iran has been trying to cleanse the
site of any traces of past, illicit nuclear-related activity.
Middle East war fears
Iran, which denies accusations of a nuclear weapons agenda and says
intelligence information pointing to that is forged, insists Parchin is a
conventional military facility and has dismissed accusations of "sanitisation"
taking place there.
"Also on this occasion no access was granted to
Parchin," said Nackaerts, who led a team of eight senior IAEA
Western powers monitoring the IAEA-Iran talks for any
indication as to whether Iran, under intensifying sanctions pressure over its
nuclear defiance, may be prepared to finally stop what they see as its
obstruction of the UN investigation.
Israel, a U.S. ally believed to
harbor the Middle East's sole nuclear arsenal, has threatened to bomb Iranian
nuclear sites if it judges diplomacy and sanctions meant to curb Iran's uranium
enrichment program to have failed irretrievably.
But the probability of
an Israeli attack on Iran in 2013 is low, partly because Tehran is unlikely to
make a dash to a bomb this year, said political risk consultancy Eurasia
Diplomats have said there is still an opportunity for world powers
to renew a push for an overall negotiated solution to the dispute after U.S.
President Barack Obama won re-election in November.
The six powers - the
United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China - want Iran to scale
back its uranium enrichment programme and cooperate fully with the IAEA. Iran
wants the West to first lift sanctions damaging its economy.
The lack of
outcome may strengthen suspicions among analysts and diplomats that Iran would
make concessions to the IAEA only if it won something in return from the powers,
which unlike the U.N. agency can ease sanctions on the major oil
A former Iranian nuclear negotiator, Hossein Mousavian, said it
had been a mistake to have the IAEA-Iran talks before the next meeting of the
world powers and the Islamic state.
He said some of the IAEA demands for
access, including to Parchin and other military sites, went beyond the
requirements under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, an assertion the UN
agency would likely dispute.
"Iran cannot accept such demands beyond the
NPT for free and the IAEA is not in position to negotiate reciprocation," said
Mousavian, now a visiting scholar at Princeton University.