VIENNA // Iran came under renewed international pressure over its nuclear ambitions in two separate meetings yesterday, but with bleak prospects of a breakthrough.
The Islamic republic is preparing for presidential elections next month and any nuclear compromise could provide ammunition for political mudslinging and claims of a sell-out.
In Vienna, the United Nations' atomic agency, the IAEA, once again urged Iranian officials to grant access to sites, documents and scientists as part of an investigation into the "possible military dimensions" of Iran's nuclear programme.
In particular, the IAEA wants to inspect the Parchin military complex near Tehran, where it suspects that until 2003, and possibly beyond, Iran carried out experiments with explosives capable of triggering a nuclear weapon.
Yesterday's talks were the 10th round of negotiations between the two sides since early 2012. Tehran repeatedly has said it is willing to remove any "ambiguities" over its nuclear programme, which it insists is solely peaceful in nature.
But Iran maintains the IAEA's findings on Parchin are based on fabricated intelligence from hostile spy agencies such as the CIA and Mossad, and complains that it has not been allowed to see the dossier.
On a separate but related track, the EU's top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, was to hold talks in Istanbul last night with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, a hardliner who now is also a heavyweight presidential candidate.
Ms Ashton represents the so-called P5+1 group of nations, consisting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the United States, Britain, Russia, China and France - along with Germany.
Their focus is on persuading Iran to halt the most sensitive part of its nuclear programme: the enriching of uranium to 20 per cent purity.
The P5+1 has offered modest sanctions relief if Iran does so, but Tehran first wants major sanctions lifted and explicit western acceptance of its "right" to a domestic nuclear fuel cycle.
Last night's talks over dinner in Istanbul were unlikely to be either a breakthrough or a breakdown.
Western powers, however, will want substantial progress after the Iranian presidential elections when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad must step down after two consecutive four-year terms.
Scott Lucas, an Iran expert at Birmingham University in England, said: "On both tracks [with the IAEA and P5+1] this is a holding process until after the elections."
However, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, Abbas Araqchi, yesterday insisted the presidential elections will have no bearing on Tehran's nuclear stance. Regardless of who is president, he said, the next government "will defend Iran's principal positions and the rights of the nation".