VIENNA -- The UN's nuclear watchdog agency says it hopes a meeting in Tehran next month with Iranian officials will strengthen diplomatic efforts to end the nuclear crisis.
IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano said in Vienna on November 29 that his deputies will meet with Iranian nuclear officials in Tehran on December 13.
"The IAEA remains firmly committed to dialogue. There is an opportunity to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue diplomatically. Now is the time for all of us to work with a sense of urgency and to seize the opportunity for a diplomatic solution," Amano said.
Amano said the IAEA delegation will try to reach an agreement in Tehran over a structured approach to Iran answering all outstanding questions about the possible military dimensions of its nuclear program.
He also said the IAEA will use the meeting to again request access for inspectors to Iran's Parchin site, where the agency believes Iran may be removing evidence of past nuclear work.
"Despite repeated requests, Iran has still not granted to the agency access to the Parchin site. Satellite imagery shows extensive activities at the Parchin site, including the removal and replacement of considerable quantities of earth," Amano said.
"This could make it much more difficult for us to undertake effective verification. Nevertheless, it is important that agency inspectors should have access to the site."
The IAEA believes Iran carried out tests a decade ago at Parchin relevant to the development of an explosive device. However, Tehran has refused to let inspectors visit areas of the military and research facility where the agency believes the tests took place.
Iran backed away from a tentative deal reached by Amano in Tehran earlier this year to permit expanded international inspections of its nuclear facilities. Since then, the IAEA has expressed continued frustration with what it says is lack of cooperation from Iran.
But Amano said the window for a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis remains open because all sides still seek a peaceful resolution.
Doubts And Deadlock
The acting U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, Robert Wood, said on November 29 that Washington hopes the December 13 meeting in Tehran will be fruitful but had doubts about Iran's sincerity.
"Last spring, [the Islamic Republic's chief nuclear negotiator] Saeed Jalili said that the structured approach document that the agency had presented was not an obstacle to reaching an agreement," Wood said.
"We are now months later; Iran still is stonewalling. We hope that on the 13th [of December] they will move forward to finalize this document. It is what the international community wants to see happen."
Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, said Iran is ready to find a breakthrough to the deadlock provided the United States and the EU "cope with reality."
"The reality is very simple. Iran is a master of enrichment technology. Iran will never ever suspend its enrichment, all the activities are under the IAEA, and they have not found a smoking gun," Soltanieh said.
The two-day Board of Governors gathering in Vienna, which ends November 30, comes after the IAEA reported earlier this month that Iran could soon start operating many more centrifuges at its underground Fordow facility.
The IAEA reported in its latest quarterly report on November 16 that Iran was poised to double the number of centrifuges in operation at Fordow to 1,400 compared to 700 previously.
The Fordow facility enriches uranium to the 20-percent enrichment level, a short hop technically from the higher levels of enrichment needed to produce nuclear weapons material.
Western countries worry that increasing the number of operational machines at the bunker-like facility brings Iran closer to having a break-out capability for producing atomic bombs. However, experts believe Iran still remains years away from having a workable nuclear arsenal.
Tehran denies any allegations it is seeking a nuclear weapons capability, saying its program is entirely for peaceful purposes.