VIENNA - The UN atomic watchdog will press its demand for access to an Iranian military site in talks starting on Monday that could influence the prospects for a broader diplomatic push to settle the decade-old stand-off over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
The May 14-15 meeting in Vienna will test Iran's readiness to address UN inspectors' suspicions of military links to its nuclear program, ahead of high-stakes talks in Baghdad next week between six world powers and the Islamic Republic.
The powers "would certainly take it as an encouraging sign" if Iran started to give credible answers to questions the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has about the nature of Tehran's nuclear work, a Western diplomat said.
But failure or success in Vienna "doesn't necessarily predict" such an outcome at the meeting in the Iraqi capital on May 23, the envoy added.
Earlier Sunday, Iran warned Western powers that applying pressure on Tehran could jeopardize talks on its nuclear program, state television reported.
"The era of a pressure strategy is ended. Any strategic miscalculations would endanger success at the Baghdad negotiations," said Saeed Jalili, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, quoted by state television.
Iran and the powers involved in nuclear diplomacy - the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - revived negotiations in Istanbul last month after a 15-month hiatus and both sides say they hope for progress in Baghdad.
The resumption of diplomacy offers a chance to defuse soaring tension that has raised fear of a new Middle East war.
The West suspects Iran is seeking to develop the capability to make nuclear bombs although intelligence officials believe Tedran has not made a decision whether to actually build them.
The Islamic Republic, one of the world's largest oil producers, says its atomic program is a peaceful push to generate more electricity for a rapidly growing population.
Israel - widely believed to hold the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal - and the United States have not ruled out military action to prevent Iran from obtaining atomic bombs if negotiations fail to achieve this objective peacefully.
The IAEA wants Iranian officials to address questions raised in its report last year that revealed intelligence pointing to past and possibly ongoing research activity in Iran of use in developing the means and technologies needed to build atom arms.
Two previous meetings between Iran and the IAEA in Tehran early this year failed to make any notable progress.
The UN agency's document published in November lent independent weight to Western allegations about Tehran's nuclear agenda and helped pave the ground for a significant ratcheting up of US and European sanctions to block its oil exports.
One finding in the report was information that Iran in 2000 had built a large containment chamber at Parchin - a military complex southeast of Tehran - in which to conduct high-explosives tests that the IAEA said are "strong indicators of possible (nuclear) weapon development".
Iran has rejected the accusations as fabricated but so far has not granted repeated requests by the UN agency to visit the place. IAEA head Yukiya Amano says the issue is a "priority" for his team of senior officials in this week's discussions.