(photo credit: Stringer Austria / Reuters)
VIENNA - Senior UN nuclear inspectors are expected to visit Iran "quite soon" to discuss their growing concerns about possible military aspects to its nuclear program, an International Atomic Energy Agency official said on Tuesday.
Such a trip would come at a time of escalating tension over Iran's nuclear ambitions with European nations preparing for a embargo on Iranian oil and Tehran threatening to retaliate by blocking Gulf oil shipping lanes vital to the global economy.
Iran, which has stoked Western suspicions by starting to enrich uranium
inside a mountain bunker, last month said it had renewed an invitation
for a special IAEA team to travel to the country.
The Vienna-based UN nuclear watchdog and Iran "are working on the timing
of a possible visit," the agency official, who declined to be named,
The delegation would probably be headed by Herman Nackaerts, director of
IAEA safeguards inspections worldwide. Lower-level inspectors regularly
monitor Iran's declared nuclear sites but their movements are otherwise
Iran's latest overture to the UN agency, which has long urged Tehran to
address disputes about its nuclear agenda, coincides with a toughening
of Western sanctions imposed on Iran over its atomic activities.
The Islamic Republic has also signaled readiness to resume talks with major powers that have been frozen for a year.
Western diplomats tend to see such initiatives as attempts by Iran, a
major oil producer, to buy time for its nuclear program, without heeding
UN demands to curb activity that could be put to making atomic bombs.
"They talk about a dialogue but once a dialogue starts they are going to
say no. So it won't get very far," one Western envoy in the Austrian
Iran has come under increased pressure since the IAEA reported in
November that Tehran appeared to have worked on designing a nuclear
weapon and that secret research to that end may be continuing, charges
the country denies.
The Islamic state's decision to begin enriching uranium to a higher
fissile purity of 20 percent at the Fordow underground site, confirmed
by the IAEA on Monday, further fuelled Western alarm about its
intentions and underlined Tehran's defiance.