VIENNA — A top nuclear negotiator from Tehran will meet with the head of the UN’s nuclear agency next week just hours before agency experts sit down with Iranian counterparts to renew their push for access to sites, people and documents believed linked to possible work on atomic arms, the agency said Thursday.
The talks between International Atomic Energy Agency specialists and Iranian negotiators have been set for nearly a month. But Iran’s decision to send Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi was only announced Thursday.
Araghchi’s mission in Vienna was unclear, but he played a key role in nuclear talks last week with six world powers that negotiators from both sides described as encouraging after years of inconclusive meetings. Those talks in Geneva were focused on limiting Iranian nuclear programs that can be used both to generate power and make fissile warhead material.
A new round is scheduled November 7-8. In Vienna, IAEA experts are looking to investigate suspicions that Iran for years worked secretly on developing a nuclear weapons program.
Iran says it has no nuclear arms and denies working toward one, claiming all its atomic activities are peaceful. While the two talks are formally separate, they are linked by concerns over Iran’s nuclear aspirations, and progress in one may result in advances in the other.
On Wednesday, an Iranian member of parliament said Tehran had halted all enrichment of uranium up to 20 percent, a key international demand. Hossein Naqavi Hosseini, who sits on the country’s foreign affairs committee, told a parliamentary news site that Iran had all the 20% enriched uranium it needed for medical research.
Israel has asked the international community to push for zero enrichment on Iranian soil, saying even a small amount of low-grade enriched uranium could allow Iran to quickly “break out” to a bomb.
The IAEA, in an email to The Associated Press, said Araghchi will meet with agency chief Yukiya Amano on Monday afternoon for about an hour. Two hours later, agency officials seeking to restart their probe of suspicions that Tehran worked on the bomb will meet with Iranian officials, the IAEA said.
The Vienna talks have been deadlocked for nearly two years, with agency experts seeking an open-ended probe and Iran insisting that it be carefully scripted. But officials from both sides spoke of a “constructive” meeting after the latest round last month. That assessment and reports of progress in Geneva are both seen as encouraging tests of pledges by Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s new centrist president, to reduce nuclear tensions.
As part of its probe, the agency is trying to gain access to a sector at Parchin, a sprawling military establishment southeast of Tehran. The agency suspects the site may have been used to test conventional explosive triggers meant to set off a nuclear blast.
Amano told reporters earlier this year he was concerned about satellite images showing asphalt work, soil removal and “possible dismantling of infrastructures” at the site.
Iran says such activities are part of regular construction that has nothing to do with alleged attempts to cleanse the area of evidence. But Amano said that because of such activities, “it may no longer be possible to find anything even if we have access to the site.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.