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IAEA chief says not optimistic on Iran N-talks

12 January, 2013

TOKYO: The UN nuclear agency chief said on Friday he was not optimistic about talks with Iran next week on getting access to a military base Western powers suspect has been used for atom bomb-related work.

The comments by Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), contrasted with a more upbeat assessment given by the Vienna-based UN agency after a meeting with Iranian officials last month. The IAEA, whose mission it is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in the world, has been trying for a year to negotiate a so-called structured approach with Iran that would give it access to sites, officials and documents.

The IAEA's priority is to visit the Parchin military facility southeast of Tehran, where the agency suspects explosives tests relevant for nuclear weapons may have taken place, perhaps a decade ago. Tehran denies this. "The outlook is not bright," Amano said in Tokyo, referring to the negotiations to be held in Tehran on Wednesday on the framework accord the IAEA hopes will enable it to quickly resume its stalled investigation into suspected atom bomb research.

The talks between the IAEA and Iran are separate from, but linked to, broader diplomacy by six world powers to resolve the nuclear row with Iran before it leads to a Middle East war, feared because of Israeli threats to bomb Iranian nuclear sites. Western powers say Iran is trying to develop the capability to make atomic weapons, a charge the Islamic Republic rejects. Both the IAEA and Tehran have said progress was achieved at the December meeting, without giving details.

However, Amano said in Japanese comments translated into English: "Talks with Iran don't proceed in a linear way. It's one step forward, two or three steps back ... So we can't say we have an optimistic outlook" for the Jan. 16 meeting. Western diplomats say Iran has worked for the past year to cleanse Parchin of any evidence of illicit activities, but Amano said late last year an IAEA visit would still be useful. The IAEA said after last month's talks in Tehran it expected a deal could be completed in January and swiftly implemented.

Meanwhile, World powers will meet Iranian top representatives to discuss the Islamic state's disputed nuclear programme in Istanbul at the end of January, a Russian official said on Thursday.

The so-called "P5+1" nations Iran and the five permanent UN Security Council members along with Germany had not all met since a June meeting in Moscow.

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