x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

UN nuclear agency in talks with Tehran

Agency wants Iran to set a date for discussions on resuming investigation as Washington stresses the importance of diplomacy in ending stand-off.

VIENNA // The United Nations' nuclear agency is talking to Iran to set a date for discussions on resuming an investigation there, it said yesterday. And Washington stressed the importance of diplomacy in ending a stand-off over Tehran's nuclear programme.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which wants to restart a long-stalled inquiry into suspected atomic-bomb research, issued a brief statement after Iranian media reported that talks were set for May 21.

The IAEA has been trying for more than a year to coax Iran into granting its officials the access they want. Western diplomats accuse Iran of stonewalling and some say the IAEA may soon need to get tougher with the Islamic republic.

Asked about the Iranian media reports, IAEA spokeswoman Gill Tudor said: "I can confirm we are discussing possible dates of a meeting with Iran."

Iranian news agencies initially reported that the meeting would be held on May 21, but an unidentified official was later quoted as saying this was only a "preliminary agreement".

The IAEA-Iran talks are separate from, but have an important bearing on, negotiations between Tehran and six world powers aimed at a broad settlement to the decade-old dispute and reducing the risk of a new Middle East war.

Western powers suspect Iran is trying to develop the capability to produce nuclear weapons under the guise of a declared civilian atomic-energy programme. Iran denies this, saying it seeks only electricity and medical applications from uranium enrichment.

Israel has long hinted at air strikes to deny Iran any means to make an atomic bomb.

But the Jewish state suggested yesterday it would be patient before taking any military action against Iran's nuclear sites.