The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, said Friday that Iran’s new leadership has shown a willingness to cooperate regarding concerns about its controversial nuclear program, regardless of talks with the P5+1 world powers.
IAEA experts are looking to investigate suspicions that Iran for years worked secretly on developing a nuclear weapons program.
“I can tell you that after the coming of [Iranian] President [Hassan] Rouhani, we have had a number of contacts with them.. but we haven’t heard this linkage,” Amano said at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington on Friday
When asked whether this marked a change, Amano said, according to AFP: “I think so. There is some substance in the new proposal by Iran.”
The nuclear watchdog chief also said he held “very productive” talks with Iran’s negotiating team this week in Vienna, where he met with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, who reportedly presented the IAEA with a new proposal to advance nuclear talks.
Several rounds of talks between Tehran and the IAEA over opening up suspected nuclear sites to international oversight failed to produce any headway, but Araqchi said ahead of the meeting that Iran would bring new tactics to the table.
The talks “will focus on Iran’s new approach to negotiations with this international body,” Araqchi had said.
The next round of talks with the IAEA is expected on November 11 in Tehran, state-run Press TV reported.
There have already been 11 meetings since January between representatives of the two sides as the IAEA tries to negotiate access to some of Iran’s nuclear facilities in order to monitor activity within the sites.
Iran will also meet with P5+1 world powers — the US, Britain, France, Russia, China, plus Germany — in Geneva on November 7 and 8 for nuclear talks.
The flurry of activity comes amid intensified efforts by the West to curb enrichment in Iran. A meeting in mid-October between Iran and the P5+1 produced cautious optimism that a deal could be reached to limit Iranian nuclear enrichment in exchange for eased sanctions.
The optimism came after years of inconclusive meetings. The talks in Geneva were focused on limiting Iranian nuclear programs that can be used both to generate power and make fissile warhead material.
The key elements of the talks are Iran’s uranium enrichment program and its plutonium heavy-water facility. Western nations argue that the 20 percent enriched uranium and the plutonium Iran is producing are not necessary for generating nuclear power and therefore must be halted with all such material removed from the country.
In an effort to pressure Tehran to agree to the demands, a series of suffocating sanctions has been enforced on Iran’s oil and financial sectors over the past couple of years. Tehran hopes to negotiate an easing of the sanctions without giving up its enrichment program.
On Sunday, Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani told China’s Phoenix news network that he believes a deal can be reached within a year, but Tehran will not halt the program if talks fail..
“The settlement of nuclear issues completely depends on the approaches and if a positive approach rules the negotiations and there exist some seriousness, one can hope for the settlement of issues in less than a year,” Larijani said according to a report in the state-run Fars news agency. “If the negotiations fail to yield results, we will continue the present path and approach that we are paving now.”
Israel has called for enrichment to cease completely, saying even low-grade uranium could be made suitable for a nuclear weapon in a short time with enough centrifuges running.
A report last week by the US-based Institute for Science and International Security, which has been tracking Iran’s nuclear program, estimated that Tehran could have enough material for a bomb in a number of weeks, should it choose to build one.
Iran says it has no nuclear arms and denies working toward one, claiming all its atomic activities are peaceful. While the talks with the IAEA and the P5+1 are formally separate, they are linked by concerns over Iran’s nuclear aspirations, and progress in one may result in advances in the other.
The diplomatic atmosphere between Iran and Western powers improved following the August installation of Rouhani who is considered more moderate than his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. During the United Nations General Assembly meetings at the beginning of September Iranian officials, including Rouhani, held ground-breaking meetings with Western leaders after years of diplomatic severance.
However, Israeli officials maintain that regardless of its diplomatic overtures to the West, Iran is still hell-bent on achieving nuclear weapons.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.