WASHINGTON - The White House on Tuesday called the UN nuclear watchdog's progress toward an agreement with Iran a step forward but said it would keep pressuring Tehran until it sees concrete actions on the Iranian nuclear program.
"Promises are one thing, actions and fulfillment of obligations are another," White House spokesman Jay Carney said when asked about the International Atomic Energy Agency's announcement it was close to a deal to unblock monitoring of Iran's suspected work on atom bombs.
"We will continue to pressure Tehran, continue to move forward with the sanctions that will be corning online as the year progresses," Carney told a news briefing.
The UN nuclear watchdog director said on Tuesday he expected to sign a deal with Iran soon to unblock an investigation into suspected work on atom bombs, potentially brightening prospects for big-power talks with Tehran to stop a drift toward conflict.
Yukiya Amano was summarizing the outcome of rare talks he conducted in Tehran on Monday, two days before six powers meet Iran's security council chief in Baghdad to test Iranian willingness to curb its nuclear program in a transparent way.
Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said his wish for access to Iran's Parchin military complex where nuclear weapons-relevant tests may have occurred would be addressed as part of the accord.
But the powers will be wary of past failures to carry out extra inspection deals between the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran, and Western patience is wearing thin.
European sanctions to block Iran's economically vital oil exports are to take force in July and Israel has mooted military action. A defiant Iran, which denies any ambition to acquire atom bombs, has threatened reprisals and oil prices have risen on fear of a new Middle East war hitting a wobbly world economy.
Amano acknowledged that "some differences" remained before the deal he discussed on his first visit to Tehran could be sealed, although chief Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili had assured him these would not thwart agreement.
"The decision was made to conclude and sign the agreement ... At this stage, I can say it will be signed quite soon," the veteran Japanese diplomat told reporters at Vienna airport on his return from the Iranian capital.
Amano, who flew impromptu to Tehran to capitalize on progress in talks with Iran in Vienna held by senior aides, described the outcome of his meeting in Iran as an "important development ... We understood each other's position better".
Asked what differences persisted, Amano said only that they were "details of discussions on this document."