This article originally appeared in Global Security Newswire, produced independently by National Journal Group under contract with the Nuclear Threat Initiative, a nonprofit, nonpartisan group whose mission is preventing the spread of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
Iran on Tuesday indicated it is prepared to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency "closer than ever before" if the Austria-based organization ends a probe of purported nuclear-weapons development efforts in the Middle Eastern nation, the Associated Press reported.
Following talks in Vienna with IAEA chief Yukiya Amano, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi also indicated that the nation was looking for an affirmation of its cooperation with the inquiry into its atomic activities.
Amano said his agency “is not in a position” to offer such a statement, Bloomberg reported. Tehran “is not meeting its obligations,” the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said after the 40-minute meeting.
Iran has charged the IAEA chief with favoring the United States' position in investigating claims that the Persian Gulf nation conducted undisclosed studies that seemed to have military nuclear aspects, AP reported. Tehran has insisted that its nuclear program has no weapons component.
The agency has accused Tehran of obstructing the probe for almost three years, despite having agreed to support the effort as part of a 2007 work plan.
Iran, for its part, has contended that it addressed all concerns detailed in the blueprint and that the U.N. nuclear watchdog has demanded additional information. Tehran has for years pressed the agency to admit that its original terms have been satisfied and to formally end the probe.
Iran could negotiate new conditions with the agency in return for the steps, accompanied by an IAEA assertion that Tehran has fulfilled all commitments on nuclear transparency, Salehi hinted (Jahn, Associated Press). The diplomat said his country is willing to discuss the nuclear-weapon research claims if the U.N. organization first states that all additional areas of inquiry have been resolved, Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported.
"Both sides have promised that their experts will sit together and think of a new mechanism of continuing our work vis-à-vis this issue," the Iranian official said. The Middle Eastern nation hopes to structure further discussions in a manner similar to the 2007 plan, which also noted the alleged studies, DPA reported.
Inquiries related to the purported nuclear-weapon studies must be addressed "within the framework of a new mechanism ... based on the fact that the IAEA should say the first stage is over and those outstanding issues have been answered," AP quoted Salehi as saying.
The diplomat characterized his discussion with Amano as "very positive." The IAEA chief offered no comment on the talks.
Salehi urged Amano not to establish prerequisites for his acceptance of Iran's offer to receive him on a trip, the Xinhua News Agency reported.
Iranian Atomic Energy Organization head Fereidoun Abbasi's proposal that the IAEA chief travel to Iran "is a regular invitation and the visit of Mr. Amano should be unconditional, otherwise it would be meaningless," Salehi told the Islamic Republic News Agency.
"As the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Amano belongs to all the member states, and he is the representative of all the member states," the foreign minister said. "Iran is one of the major members of IAEA and it is natural for Amano to visit Iran as his predecessors did."
Amano last month said he would mull a trip to Iran if dialogue with Tehran yielded substantive progress.
Speaking on Monday, Salehi reaffirmed his country's refusal to surrender privileges granted under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the Tehran Times reported. The pact permits signatory nations to produce nuclear fuel for civilian use, but Washington and its allies have expressed concern that Iran might tap its atomic-fuel production capabilities to generate bomb material.
The foreign minister noted that Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had issued a religious pronouncement against the assembly, storage, and employment in combat of nuclear bombs. Referring to Iran's earlier discussions with the five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany, the diplomat said Tehran has consistently expressed its willingness to pursue dialogue.
Iran's announcement in June of plans to increase by three times its production of 20 percent-enriched uranium and to move the activity to a hardened facility "was an important statement because it makes even clearer the fact that Iran's program is not designed for purely peaceful purposes," British Foreign Secretary William Hague wrote in a commentary published on Monday by the London Guardian.
The Middle Eastern state last year began further refining low-enriched uranium from its stockpile, ostensibly to fuel a medical isotope production reactor in Tehran. The United States and other Western powers have feared that the process could help Iran produce nuclear-weapon material, which requires an enrichment level of roughly 90 percent.
"Iran has one research reactor. The plans announced by [Abbasi] would provide more than four times its annual fuel requirements," Hague wrote.
"The plan would also require diverting at least half of Iran's current annual output of 3.5 percent-enriched uranium and so deny it to Iran's nuclear power stations. If Iran is serious about developing civil nuclear energy, why divert limited materials and resources away from the civil-energy program in this way, while spurning offers of technological assistance for Iran's peaceful use of nuclear energy from the outside world, including the [P-5+1] countries of the U.K., China, France, Germany, Russia and the U.S.?" he asked.
Hague added, "When enough 20 percent-enriched uranium is accumulated at the underground facility at Qum, it would take only two or three months of additional work to convert this into weapons-grade material. There would remain technical challenges to actually producing a bomb, but Iran would be a significant step closer."
Hague described the Qum facility as "a previously covert nuclear site," and said that Iran "has a persistent record of evasion and obfuscation with the IAEA. This is not an abstract issue: Iran's nuclear program could lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, already the world's most volatile region. It would be both naive and a derogation of duty to give them -- once again -- the benefit of the doubt," he wrote.
Iran's uranium-enrichment announcement "demonstrates the urgency of increasing pressure," according to the foreign secretary. "The U.K. is prepared to take action: I have already agreed to a further 100 designations to add to EU sanctions in May, and last week announced additional travel bans against known proliferators. Iran may hope that the unprecedented changes of the Arab Spring will distract the world from its nuclear program. We are determined that it shall not."