A group of six world powers has called on Iran to enter talks on its controversial nuclear program and allow international inspectors access to a military base amid reports Tehran may be cleaning it of evidence related to nuclear arms experiments.
The group, known as the P5+1, voiced "regret" Thursday about Iran's escalating campaign to enrich uranium and said the negotiation process should produce "concrete results." The joint call at a board meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog in Vienna also urged Iran to open its Parchin military site to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors as Tehran has promised.
Western diplomats briefed by a senior IAEA official said Iran might be delaying the inspectors' trip to Parchin so crews could first "sanitize" it of evidence left from high explosive trigger tests relevant to designing a nuclear bomb. They referred to a recent sequence of satellite pictures of the Parchin complex showing apparent changes to its structure.
Iran's IAEA ambassador, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told reporters the suspicions aired about Parchin were "childish" and "ridiculous." He did not elaborate.
IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said Thursday Iran had not formally contacted the U.N. agency about access to Parchin, a day after Iranian media suggested such a visit could be granted.
Robert Wood, acting U.S. envoy to the IAEA, said the powers had signaled to Iran that it is "on notice to comply with its obligations" and suggested agency governors may take further action if Tehran does nothing before they reconvene in June. Separately, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the international community is united in its concerns about Iran's nuclear program and that Washington looks forward to "serious and sincere discussion."
The statement by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - the United States, China, Russia, France and Britain - plus Germany reaffirmed support for a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei struck a similar chord Thursday, saying he welcomes U.S. President Barack Obama's comments this week that there is still time to address the question diplomatically.
Israel believes a nuclear-armed Iran would be a threat to its existence and has warned it may take military action to stop Iranian nuclear activities. Iran denies allegations it is attempting to develop atomic weapons and says its nuclear activities are purely for power generation and medical research purposes.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.