VIENNA - The UN nuclear watchdog chief said on Tuesday he expected to sign a deal with Iran soon to boost its cooperation with an investigation into Tehran's disputed atomic activity, although differences remained.
Yukiya Amano, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), spoke a day after holding rare talks in Tehran and a day before Iran and six world powers will hold broader negotiations on the extent of Tehran's nuclear program.
"(A) decision was made to conclude and sign the agreement ... I can say it will be signed quite soon," Amano told reporters at Vienna airport after returning from Tehran.
Amano, who had been looking for a deal giving his inspectors a freer hand to investigate suspected atomic bomb research in Iran, described the outcome of his meetings in Iran as an "important development".
He said "some differences" remained but that Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili had told him these would not pose an obstacle to an agreement.
Jalili on Wednesday will sit down in Baghdad with senior officials from the six world powers involved in efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear stand-off peacefully.
"We understand each other's position better," Amano said about his talks with Jalili and other Iranian officials.
He said he had raised the issue of access to the Parchin military site - an IAEA priority in its inquiry - and that this would be addressed as part of the agreement's implementation.
Meanwhile, several Israeli officials reacted Amano's comments of an impending deal with Iran over its nuclear program with apprehension and suspicion.
"Iran has proven over the years its lack of credibility, its dishonesty - telling the truth is not its strong side - and, therefore, we have to be suspicious of them all the time, and examine the agreement that is being formulated," Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai said on Israel Radio.
His comments were echoed by Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, who said: "At this point, in light of past experience, we are suspicious."
Asked whether military action against Iran, long hinted by Israel, was still a possibility with apparent progress being made on the diplomatic track, Vilnai said: "One shouldn't get confused for even a moment - everything is on the table."
Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli defense official, predicted that Iran would take a conciliatory tack at the Baghdad talks, while not abandoning its goal of becoming a nuclear power.
"They will be willing to show what appears to be flexibility as long as it doesn't affect their strategic direction, meaning that they will be able to develop nuclear weapons if that decision is made," Gilad told Army Radio.
"Today they have enough uranium, raw material, for the bomb, they have the missiles that can carry them and they have the knowledge to assemble a warhead on a missile," he said. "They have not yet decided to do this because they are worried about the response."