Simon Sturdee, AFP
Last updated: 18 September, 2012

IAEA and Iran eyeing new talks in mid-October

Iran and the UN nuclear agency are looking to hold a new meeting in mid-October, despite Tehran’s atomic chief suggesting the watchdog has been infiltrated by “terrorists,” diplomats told AFP on Tuesday.

Four envoys said that plans were being made for the meeting, which would follow one between Iran’s nuclear agency chief Fereydoon Abbasi Davani and International Atomic Energy Agency head Yukiya Amano in Vienna on Monday.

The IAEA made no mention of dates for more talks but Amano said in a statement issued on Tuesday that he had told Abbasi Davani that the agency was “committed to continued dialogue” and ready to meet “in the near future.”

He stressed however after several rounds of fruitless talks this year, the last on August 24 in Vienna, that “a structured approach to clarify all issues related to Iran’s nuclear programme, including those related to possible military dimensions, needs to be agreed and implemented as soon as possible.”

These meetings are aimed at clarifying the agency’s suspicions that prior to 2003, and possibly since, Iran had a structured programme of activities the UN agency said were “relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.”

Previous rounds took place in May and in June. Amano also visited Tehran in May, as did a team led by chief inspector Herman Nackaerts at the start of the year, returning however with no deal. Iran denies working on the bomb.

Parallel higher-level diplomatic meetings between Iran and the P5+1 — Britain, China, France, Russia, the US and Germany — took place in Istanbul, Baghdad and Moscow this year but were downgraded to working-group level.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, P5+1 chief negotiator, was however due to meet Iranian counterpart Saeed Jalili in Istanbul later Tuesday for their first face-to-face talks since June, although they spoke by phone in August.

Tuesday’s IAEA statement however made no mention of Abbasi Davani’s outburst in a speech on Monday to the 155-nation IAEA’s general conference that “terrorists and saboteurs” might have infiltrated the watchdog.

His comments were “outrageously strong” and “completely without evidence,” Mark Fitzpatrick, non-proliferation expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank in London, told AFP.

“They (Iran) are feeling cornered. They have been resisting IAEA efforts for several years to get to the bottom of their apparently nuclear-weapons-related work and now they have decided to go on the offensive,” Fitzpatrick said.

Abbasi Davani also said that power lines to Iran’s underground uranium enrichment facility at Fordo were “cut using explosives” last month, and that a similar incident incident targeting its Natanz facility also took place.

The nuclear chief said however that back-up generators had ensured that there was no power cut and therefore no damage caused to the highly sensitive machinery at the Fordo plant, which is dug into a mountainside near the holy city of Qom

He stopped short of accusing anyone but Iran has in the past pointed the finger at Israel and the United States for past assassinations of nuclear scientists and computer viruses targeting its activities such as Stuxnet.

Centrifuges, which spin uranium at supersonic speeds, “are very sensitive to unmanaged fluctuations in the power supply,” Fitzpatrick said. “Stopping the power supply is a natural target of anyone’s efforts to stop the programme peacefully.”

Enriched uranium can be used for peaceful purposes but, when highly purified, also in the fissile core of a nuclear weapon. Iran says its programme is peaceful but the IAEA says repeatedly it is unable to vouch for this.

Multiple UN Security Council resolutions have called on Iran to suspend enrichment, imposing sanctions that have been augmented in recent months by additional US and EU restrictions aimed at Tehran’s vital oil exports.

Speculation meanwhile has increased that Israel, the Middle East’s sole if undeclared nuclear-armed state, may bomb Iran’s facilities.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last weekend that Iran was “90 percent” towards having a nuclear bomb, insisting that Western powers, led by Washington, should set “red lines” Tehran must not cross.