The head of the United Nations nuclear agency says he expects Iran to sign an agreement "quite soon" to allow inspections of facilities suspected of being used in a covert nuclear-weapons program.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Yukiya Amano made the comment Tuesday after returning to Vienna from a brief visit to Iran, where he met chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili. Amano said he and Jalili made a "decision to reach an agreement" on U.N. access to Iranian sites including the Parchin military complex.
Western powers suspect Iran has engaged in atomic weapons research at the site. Tehran says Parchin is a conventional weapons facility and insists the Iranian nuclear program is peaceful.
White House spokesman Jay Carney called the announcement a "step forward," but said Washington would "make judgments about Iran's behavior based on actions, not just promises or agreements."
Israel sees a nuclear-armed Iran as a threat to its existence and refuses to rule out military action against the Iranian nuclear program.
Israel sees false progress
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak accused Iran of trying to create a false impression of progress with the IAEA before nuclear talks with six world powers Wednesday in Baghdad. He said Iran is trying to reduce international pressure to make nuclear concessions and wants to postpone any intensification of sanctions by the foreign powers.
The six-nation group is trying to negotiate a separate agreement with Iran on stopping Iranian production of highly-enriched uranium that could be converted quickly to nuclear-bomb material.
Barak urged the six-nation group to leave "no window or crack" for Iran to reach a military nuclear capability, saying any international concessions on the issue must be "forbidden."
He raised the possibility of allowing Iran to keep what he called a "symbolic" amount of low-enriched uranium but only under "strict" international supervision. Israel is widely believed to be the only nuclear-armed nation in the Middle East.
Amano: differences remain
Amano said some differences remain between the IAEA and Iran on the inspections issue and he is not sure when they will be resolved. But, he also said Jalili assured him those differences will not be an obstacle to a deal. It is not clear how Amano's apparent progress will affect the Baghdad negotiations on Iran's uranium enrichment.
Executive director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association Daryl Kimball told VOA the IAEA suspects Iran used the Parchin complex prior to 2004 to conduct nuclear-weapon related experiments and wants to know if those experiments have continued.
"The problem has been over the last few months that Iran was trying to limit the IAEA's access to these sites and some [Iranian nuclear] officials," Kimball said. "And the IAEA quite rightly was refusing to be restricted and limited so that it can follow through on any leads that its investigation may turn up."
Acting U.S. envoy to the IAEA Robert Wood said Washington remains "concerned" by what he called Iran's "urgent obligation" to cooperate fully with the U.N. nuclear agency in resolving suspicions about the nature of the Iranian nuclear program. The United States also has refused to rule out a strike on Iran to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Iran claims nuclear milestone
In a separate development, Iran's state-run IRNA news agency said Tuesday the national atomic energy organization has delivered domestically-made nuclear fuel to a research reactor in Tehran for the first time. The report said two batches of the fuel were sent to the site and one was loaded into the reactor, but gave no time frame. There was no independent confirmation of the development.
Western diplomats and analysts have said the Iranian government sometimes exaggerates its nuclear progress to try to improve its bargaining position with world powers and strengthen its domestic support.
London-based nuclear energy expert Malcolm Grimston of Chatham House said the only way for Iran to prove that its nuclear program is peaceful is to accept international offers of enriched uranium for legitimate uses such as the research reactor and power plants.
Iranian leaders also would have to "dismantle the technology that allows them to take [enrichment] further up to weapons-grade," Grimston said.