A system has been reached in talks between Iran and major powers towards a nuclear deal that will give the UN atomic watchdog access to all suspect sites, a senior US official said Monday.
“The entry point isn’t that we must be able to get into every military site — because the United States of America wouldn’t allow anybody to get into every military site — so that’s not appropriate,” the official said.
“But if, in the context of agreement… the IAEA believes it needs access, and has a reason for that, access then we have a process [whereby] that access is given,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
“We have worked out a process that we believe will ensure that the IAEA has the access it needs.”
If the system is agreed to by Iran, it could mark a potential breakthrough in months of negotiations with the Islamic Republic, which has refused to give the International Atomic Energy Agency access to sensitive sites.
“There are conventional purposes, and there are secrets that any country has that they are not willing to share,” the official added.
The access to military sites has been one of the key sticking points in negotiations, with Western powers urging Tehran to open facilities to international inspectors, and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei — who has the last word on the nuclear negotiations — adamantly refusing.
The anonymous US official stated that Washington had long insisted that if the IAEA felt it needed access to a site that was suspect, “then they should be able to get it.
“If that happens to be a military site, then that should be available,” the representative went on, adding that the IAEA had an “institutional responsibility” to explore what the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program may have been.
US Secretary of State John Kerry warned earlier on Monday — as he awaited the return of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif from consultations in Tehran — that it was too soon to tell if a nuclear deal with Iran is possible.
“We’re just working and it’s too early to make any judgments,” Kerry told reporters in Vienna following a weekend of intense talks with counterparts from five other major powers and Iran.
In a possible sign, meanwhile, of progress, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that he would arrive on Tuesday, coinciding with the expected return of his Iranian counterpart.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, speaking in New York, said he would be back in Vienna this week. It was unclear when his British, German or Chinese counterparts might follow suit.
Over the weekend, officials from both sides made clear that their Tuesday deadline to nail down a deal was highly unlikely to be met, although they said they would only extend it by several days.
Zarif flew back to Tehran on Sunday night, as did many of the other ministers.
EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini spoke for many late Sunday when she insisted there would be no formal months-long extension, saying that “postponement is not an option.”
In April, Iran and the P5+1 group — the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany — agreed on the main outlines of a deal that they hope will end a 13-year standoff over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Under the framework, Iran will dramatically scale down its atomic activities in order to make any drive to make a weapon — an ambition it denies having — all but impossible.
This includes slashing the number of centrifuges enriching uranium, which can be used for nuclear fuel but also in a bomb; reducing its uranium stockpile; and altering the Arak reactor.
In return, the powers have said they will progressively ease sanctions that have suffocated Iran’s economy, but while retaining the option to reimpose them if Iran violates the agreement.