The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) indicated late on
Monday, after a three-hour meeting with Iran, that more work was
needed by the country in order to fully implement a series of
nuclear transparency steps by a Thursday deadline.
The IAEA also made clear that no agreement had yet been reached with
Iran on what issues to tackle in the next phase of a cooperation
pact aimed at allaying fears that Tehran may be seeking to develop a
nuclear weapons capability.
The outcome is likely to disappoint Western diplomats, who want Iran
to move much faster in addressing the IAEA's questions about alleged
activities that could be relevant for any bid to build a nuclear
missile. Iran denies any such work.
"Everybody is fairly frustrated at the lack of progress," said one
envoy who closely follows the Iran nuclear file.
The meeting took place a day before Iran and six world powers were
due to start a new round of negotiations, also in the Austrian
capital, aimed at reaching a final settlement of the standoff over
Tehran's nuclear ambitions by late July.
Iran has offered to work with the IAEA in clarifying what the U.N.
agency calls the possible military dimensions (PMD) of the country's
nuclear program. But diplomats and experts say it would be difficult
for Iran to admit to any past activity contradicting its denials of
allegations of a bomb agenda.
"Iran has real problems in addressing the PMD issues," said the
Western diplomat, who is not from one of the six major powers
negotiating with Iran - the United States, France, Germany, Britain,
China and Russia.
There was no immediate comment from Tehran.
Iran's talks with the IAEA and with the powers are closely linked as
both focus on fears that Iran may be covertly seeking a nuclear
weapons capability. Iran says its uranium enrichment program is a
peaceful energy project only.
Western diplomats say Iran must start engaging with the IAEA's
long-stalled investigation and that this is central to the success
of the broader negotiations.
WEST AND IRAN FAR APART
Under the cooperation agreement signed with the IAEA in November,
Iran was to take seven practical measures by May 15 in a phased
process to shed more light on its atomic activities.
Diplomatic sources told Reuters last Friday that the IAEA was
seeking further clarification from Iran about the most sensitive of
those steps, concerning fast-acting detonators that can have both
military and civilian applications.
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How Iran responds to questions about its development and need of
this type of equipment is seen as an important test of its
willingness to cooperate fully with the IAEA investigation.
Iran says it has already implemented the seven steps - including
access to two uranium sites - but the sources said the IAEA still
wanted more information about so-called Explosive Bridge Wire (EBW)
They said the IAEA also wanted to agree with Iran new measures to be
taken after May 15, hoping these will address other sensitive issues
linked to its nuclear bomb inquiry.
However, after Monday's apparently inconclusive meeting, the two
sides did not even say when they would meet again.
Iran wants an end to sanctions that are badly hurting its
oil-reliant economy. After years of a vitriolic and confrontational
standoff with the West, the election last year of pragmatist Hassan
Rouhani as Iran's president created a new atmosphere more conducive
to settling disputes via diplomacy.
But diplomats and experts say Iran and the West remain far apart on
what a long-term deal to resolve the dispute and dispel fears of a
new Middle East war would look like.
"It's typical for negotiations to experience bumps, blocks and
breakdowns," said Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute
for Strategic Studies (IISS) think-tank.
In the Iran-IAEA talks, "the Iranian negotiators have to be wary of
appearing to be too cooperative, lest they be accused back home of
giving in," Fitzpatrick said.
(Editing by Gareth Jones)
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