United Nations atomic inspectors and Iran broke a five-year stalemate with an agreement that gives the International Atomic Energy Agency access to the Persian Gulf nation’s disputed Parchin military complex.
IAEA head Yukiya Amano announced the breakthrough today after he returned from a surprise visit to Tehran, saying the two sides agreed yesterday to create a document outlining the steps necessary for Iran to clear suspicions over its atomic program. It’s the first time since June 2007 that the IAEA and Iran have agreed on methods to give inspectors greater access to facilities including Parchin, where work may have taken place on the trigger for a nuclear weapon, according to the agency.
“There was an important development on the structured approach document on which we have been working since January,” Amano told journalists in Vienna. “The decision was made to conclude and sign an agreement.”
The announcement was greeted with skepticism by Israel, where Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Iran is trying “the impression of progress” ahead of nuclear negotiations tomorrow in Baghdad, according to the Israeli Ministry of Defense.
Barak repeated Israel’s demand that Iran stop all uranium enrichment, with current stockpiles of enriched uranium removed from Iran, to ensure that the Persian Gulf nation won’t have the capability to produce nuclear weapons.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Iran’s follow-through will be critical.
“Obviously, the announcement of the deal is one thing, but the implementation is what we’re going to be looking for -- for Iran to truly follow through and provide the access to all of the locations, the documents, and the personnel that the IAEA requires in order to determine whether Iran’s program is exclusively for peaceful purposes,” she told reporters in Washington.
The accord, which Amano said will be signed “quite soon,” comes as negotiators from China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S. -- the so-called P5+1 group -- head to Baghdad for a second round of talks tomorrow over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.
Iran’s Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said it would be “improper” for the P5+1 group to seek a cooperative gesture from Iran while imposing new sanctions, according to Iranian state-controlled Press TV.
While IAEA inspectors regularly visit sites where Iran enriches uranium, the agency has been seeking more access to facilities suspected of hiding undeclared nuclear work. The 2007 agreement, negotiated by former IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei, cleared Iran of some suspicions before breaking down.
European and U.S. diplomats criticized that accord as a stalling tactic. The program was derailed after Iran refused to address allegations contained inside intelligence documents given to the agency, saying they were fakes.
Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said his government is “very suspicious” of the latest agreement. Iran has “played a game of hide-and-seek” with the IAEA and the international community for years, he told Israel’s Army Radio.
U.S. envoy Robert Wood said in an e-mailed statement that the Islamic Republic should “take this opportunity to resolve all outstanding concerns about the nature of its nuclear program. Full and transparent cooperation with the IAEA is the first logical step.”
The deal with Iran, the second-biggest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, helped push crude prices lower today. Oil for June delivery slid 86 cents, or 0.9 percent, to $91.71 a barrel at 1:04 p.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract expires today. The more actively traded July contract fell 85 cents to $92.01. Front- month futures are down 7.2 percent this year.
“It doesn’t mean everything is going to be resolved, but it seems at least there’s some better cooperation between Iran and the IAEA,” said Olivier Jakob, a managing director at Zug, Switzerland-based Petromatrix GmbH. “It’s part of the process which for now is moving in the right direction. But the real significance will come tomorrow with the P5+1 meeting.”
Amano said Iran consented to an inspection of the Parchin site 18 miles (30 kilometers) southwest of Tehran, where the IAEA said in November it had “credible” evidence showing the country had worked on the trigger for an atomic weapon. While the final details must be hashed out between the IAEA and Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, they won’t scuttle the deal, he said.
“There remain some differences, but Mr. Jalili elaborated that the differences will not be an obstacle to reach an agreement,” Amano said. “We understood each other’s positions better. That was the reason we could make this important development.”
The P5+1 group had demanded that Iran take concrete steps to alleviate concern over its nuclear work.
“We had some agreements with the P5+1 in Istanbul for more cooperation,” Jalili said today at Baghdad airport, according to Iran’s Press TV. “Now we hope that talks in Baghdad will lead to that cooperation.”
Several Obama administration officials and Western diplomats said the P5+1 group won’t give Iran relief from oil and financial sanctions that are hobbling its economy. The group has agreed on confidence-building measures it may offer during talks in the Iraqi capital tomorrow in response to Iranian concessions, they said.
U.S. and European Union sanctions are crippling Iran’s ability to export and get paid for crude, its main source of revenue. The U.S. and the EU are in no hurry to ease that pressure before their concerns about Iran’s nuclear program are addressed, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
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