Iran has agreed to let UN inspectors inspect its recently revealed uranium enrichment plant, according to Javier Solana, the EU's chief foreign policy official. Solana made the announcement outside Geneva, where Iran met with six world powers about its nuclear program.
"Iran has told us that it plans to cooperate fully and immediately with the International Atomic Energy Agency on the new enrichment facility near Qom and will invite experts from the agency to visit the facility soon -- we expect within the next couple of weeks," Solana said.
Solana also said a second round of talks will be held before the end of the month. It also will focus on nuclear issues, as well as what he called "global issues" that any of the parties are interested in bringing up.
U.S. and Iranian representatives held separate bilateral talks during a break in the meeting. A U.S. official who attended the talks called the meeting between U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns and Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili "significant."
The sideline meeting is thought to be the highest level of direct contact between Iranian and U.S. officials since Washington severed relations with Tehran during a hostage crisis in the wake of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution.
In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama welcomed what he called "constructive" talks with Iran, but he stressed that Iran must follow with constructive action and be more forthcoming about its nuclear program.
"Iran must demonstrate its commitment to transparency,” Obama said. “Earlier this month we presented clear evidence that Iran has been building a covert nuclear facility in Qom. Since Iran has now agreed to cooperate fully and immediately with the International Atomic Energy Agency, it must grant unfettered access to IAEA inspectors within two weeks."
Obama also said Iran must demonstrate that its nuclear program is peaceful.
Without such concrete steps, he said, the United States won't continue to take part in the talks that began on October 1, but instead will move to bring what he called "increased pressure" on Tehran.
A German Foreign Ministry spokesman, Andreas Peschke, said on October 2 that the talks were "clearly a first step but others must follow," according to Reuters.
Germany and five nuclear powers -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- each sent representatives to a small Swiss villa at Genthod, just off Lake Geneva, for the October 1 talks.
Western diplomats say Iranian officials told the six parties at the opening session that Tehran was not willing to discuss anything specific about its nuclear program that is of concern to the West. Instead, they say, the Iranian team would only discuss general nonproliferation and peace issues.
Solana attended the meeting to engage directly with the Iranian negotiator. Solana's spokeswoman, Cristina Gallach, described the meeting as "cordial and businesslike," with the main focus on Iran's nuclear program.
She said there is good will on the part of the international community to have a serious relationship with Iran. But she said "important clarifications" need to be obtained from Iran.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said ahead of the meeting that Tehran would face "stronger measures" if it does not respond to the issues being raised by the six powers.
"I think you've heard [President Obama] and other leaders around the world say that this is not talk for talk's sake,” Gibbs said. “There is a specific agenda and specific problems that need to be dealt with, and if they are not dealt with responsibly by the Iranians, stronger measures will be developed and implemented to ensure that they do."
The six powers have said they want Iran to respond to their offer of trade and political incentives. In return, they want Iran to suspend all of its uranium enrichment activities and to improve cooperation with nuclear inspectors from the IAEA.
The meeting also explored whether Tehran would be willing to join further negotiations about its nuclear program.
Iran stands accused of using a nuclear energy program to hide an attempt to build nuclear weapons in violation of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Tehran denies those allegations, saying its nuclear program is entirely for the peaceful purpose of producing energy. Tehran also refuses to suspend its uranium enrichment campaign, as demanded by the UN Security Council, saying it has the sovereign right to develop nuclear energy.
The IRNA news agency reports that Jalili told Solana that Iran will not negotiate away its sovereign rights. IRNA also has reported that Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki made a similar statement on September 30 when he met in Washington with two U.S. congressmen.
That report says the U.S. lawmakers asked Mottaki whether Iran would allow UN nuclear inspectors to access the newly disclosed uranium enrichment plant near the Iranian city of Qom.
The announcement last week by UN nuclear inspectors that Iran had just disclosed the existence of a second uranium enrichment facility sparked a diplomatic storm. Iran has previously declared the existence of one other uranium enrichment facility at Natanz.
Tehran insists that any material enriched at Qom or Natanz is meant for nuclear energy. Nonproliferation experts warn that the enriched uranium could be diverted to build nuclear weapons.
Gibbs, the White House spokesman, says the onus is on Iran to prove its claim that its program to create energy, rather than a secret program for nuclear weapons.
"What is undeniable is that a plant was constructed in violation of their obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, something they've signed with the IAEA, as well as UN Security Council resolutions,” Gibbs said. “We will demand that IAEA inspectors have unfettered access to the facility, to personnel, to documents surrounding the facility. There's no doubt this is in violation of their own obligations to which they're a party."
British intelligence services said earlier this week they have evidence that Iran has been secretly designing a nuclear warhead since late 2004 or early 2005.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for a December deadline for Iran to engage in further talks or face the threat of a fourth round of UN sanctions.
But both Russia and China could veto any UN Security Council resolutions on further sanctions. Russia has hardened its language against Iran since the disclosure of the enrichment facility near Qom.
China has said it is worried about the new uranium enrichment facility. So far, however, it has stuck to its call for negotiations instead of more sanctions.
Western diplomats say both Russia and China may decide to wait for an IAEA inspection of the Qom facility and an IAEA report on it before taking further action. That report is expected to be finalized in November.