Print options

June 08, 2012

UN Watchdog, Iran Fail to Make Progress on Nuclear Issue

by Selah Hennessy

LONDON - Representatives from the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog and Iran hit an impasse Friday in talks on providing inspectors possible access to a military site that is key to Iran’s controversial nuclear program.

"There has been no progress," the International Atomic Energy Agency's chief inspector Herman Nackaerts told journalists in Vienna. "This is disappointing."

No date was set for another meeting, Nackaerts said.

Six world powers were closely monitoring the talks to see if Tehran was ready to make concessions before a meeting in Moscow later this month over disputes concerning Iran's controversial nuclear program.

The aim of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been to gain greater access to the disputed military site, known as Parchin.

Satellite images obtained by a U.S. research organization last week suggest Iran may be trying to wipe traces of nuclear weapon testing from the site. The U.N. is aware of the images and wants inspectors to be allowed in.

Likely setback

There have recently been reports of some progress on the access issue. But from the tone of Nackaerts' comments, Friday's news is likely to be seen as a significant setback.

The IAEA’s chief, Yukiya Amano, visited Iran last month and returned from talks saying a deal would soon be made. But little was achieved during a meeting in Baghdad with Iran and world powers that came the same week.

The United States, a number of European countries, and Israel suspect Iran of working to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies this; it says it’s developing civilian nuclear power.

Anthony Skinner, a Middle East expert with the Britain-based risk analyst group Maplecroft, said he doubts ultimately that negotiations will produce results. Echoing a view from some Western nations and Israel, he says Iran is stalling.

"I think the Iranians calculate that they can make incremental steps moving forward and back-peddling when it is convenient for them and stalling," Skinner said. "All this is a strategy to ensure that they can move ahead with their nuclear program, buy themselves time."

Site key

The U.N. watchdog believes explosives tests have taken place at Parchin that could be related to the development of nuclear bombs.

Richard Dalton served as ambassador to Iran and is now an associate fellow at the London-based research group Chatham House. He said it's vital that negotiations with Iran succeed.

To makes its case, Dalton said Iran will need to make transparent what it's done in the past to show the international community that it is not aiming to develop weapons.

Dalton said he doesn’t believe Iran is working to develop nuclear weapons and that the country is entering negotiations in good faith.

"I believe that Iran recognizes that it will not have sensible, productive relations with the outside world unless it can deal seriously with these allegations," Dalton said.

Dalton added that negotiations have stalled in the past because of suspicions on both sides, including an undertone of covert action Iran says has been taken by Israel and the U.S.

"Iran is a difficult negotiating partner but then it regards its negotiating partners as difficult from its point of view and this is a very sensitive matter," Dalton explained. "Because there has been so much bad blood."

Without progress on the issue, a European Union oil embargo will be enforced on July 1, joining a host of international sanctions against Tehran.