Iran OKs more access for U.N. nuclear inspectors
Dubai, United Arab Emirates • Iran agreed Monday to offer more information and expanded access to U.N. nuclear inspectors including more openings at a planned reactor and uranium site even as America's top diplomat said Iranian envoys had backed away from a wider deal seeking to ease Western concerns that Tehran could one day develop atomic weapons.
The flurry of announcements and comments showed both the complexities and urgency in trying to move ahead on an accord between Iran and world powers after overtime talks in Geneva failed to produce a deal that could curb Iran's uranium enrichment in exchange for a rollback in some U.S.-led economic sanctions.
With negotiators set to resume next week, Iranian officials promoted the pact reached with U.N. nuclear chief Yukiya Amano as a "road map" for greater cooperation and transparency, which could move the talks ahead. But the plans do not mention some of the sites most sought by U.N. teams to probe suspicions of nuclear-related work, notably the Parchin military facility outside Tehran.
"It's an important step forward, but by no means the end of the process," Amano told The Associated Press in Tehran. "There is still much work to be done."
Western leaders, meanwhile, were keen to display a unified front after suggestions that France had broken ranks in Geneva and demanded more concessions from Iran on enrichment levels and an under-construction heavy water reactor that produced a greater amount of plutonium by-product, which could be used in weapons production.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said it was Iran that put the brakes on reaching a first-phase agreement.
"There was unity but Iran couldn't take it," Kerry said during a stop in Abu Dhabi. He added: "The French signed off on it, we signed off on it."
Kerry told the BBC on Monday that negotiators had been "very, very close ... extremely close" to reaching a deal with Iran.
"I think we were separated by four or five different formulations of a particular concept," he said.
In the BBC interview, Kerry acknowledged "the French have been more vocal about one thing or another." But he said, "the fact is that we had a unity on Saturday in a proposal put in front of the Iranians. But because of some the changes they felt they had to go back and change it."
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the world powers presented a united front to Iran at the weekend talks that failed to reach an accord, and although "some gaps" remained between parties at the talks, "most of those gaps are narrow."
In Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has acknowledged that an overall deal is likely between Iran and world powers, which would undercut Israeli threats to launch military action against Iranian nuclear sites. Yet he hailed the delay as a chance to "achieve a much better deal."
"The target date for this deal is the date on which a good deal will be achieved that will deny Iran a military nuclear capability," he told Israel's parliament Monday.
Iran has categorically denied it seeks nuclear arms and insists its only seeks reactors for energy and medical applications. Iranian officials portrayed the expanded U.N. access as further sign it seeks to work with the West.
Under the plans, Iran would allow inspectors a first-time visit of its key Gachin uranium mine on the Gulf coast and give broader access to the heavy water facility being built in the central city of Arak.
Heavy water reactors use a different type of coolant to produce a greater amount of plutonium by-product than conventional reactors. Inspectors from the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, have already visited the reactor site but seek more extensive examinations.
Plutonium can be used in nuclear weapons production, but separating it from the reactor by-products requires a special technology that Iran does not possess.
The new accord also calls on Iran to provide more details on its nuclear program including proposed new reactor sites and all planned research reactors. This is important because such facilities use 20 percent enriched uranium, which is the highest level acknowledged by Iran and a key aspect of the ongoing nuclear talks. Halting the 20 percent enrichment which is several steps away from weapons-grade is a key goal of Western envoys, for which they may offer Iran a possible easing of U.S.-led sanctions.