The head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency has held talks with Iranian officials in Tehran about clearing the way for an international probe into whether Iran has conducted secret nuclear-weapons research.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Yukiya Amano was reported to have met with the head of Iran's nuclear-energy organization, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, during talks on May 21.
Amano was also expected to meet with chief nuclear negotiator Said Jalili and Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi.
The visit is aimed at pressuring Iran to permit IAEA investigations at Iranian sites suspected of involvement in atomic-weapons research. Reports say the agency also wants to speak to Iranian nuclear officials and scientists and review documents.
The Islamic republic denies any effort to develop a nuclear weapon.
The IAEA chief's visit comes ahead of the next round of nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States -- in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, on March 23.
Before his departure from Vienna to Tehran, Amano said he was positive about reaching an agreement with Iranian authorities.
"My visit to Tehran [now] and having talks with high level Iranian officials will help to reach agreement on a structured approach," Amano said. "Nothing is certain, but let's stay positive."
Amano, a veteran Japanese diplomat with long experience in nuclear proliferation, noted the progress in his recent interactions with the Iranian officials.
"We need to keep up the momentum," Amano said to reporters upon his arrival in the Iranian capital. "There has been good progress during the recent round of discussions between Iran and the IAEA, so I thought that now is the right time for me to visit Tehran and have direct talks with high-level officials of Iran."
The IAEA team has been seeking to visit the Parchin military complex. That site has been suspected of housing a secret facility used for Iran's nuclear program -- a claim that Iranian authorities deny. IAEA inspectors visited Parchin in 2005.
Amano has said the IAEA's direct negotiations with Iran are meant to be separate from talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany. He said, however, that he hopes that the two sets of negotiations will reinforce each other.
Iran on May 19 called for sanctions over its disputed nuclear program to be lifted at the Baghdad talks.
Iran is currently under four rounds of United Nations' sanctions over its refusal to halt uranium-processing work that could be directed toward a nuclear weapon. The United States and European Union have also imposed their own sanctions, including measures targeting Iran's oil sector and central bank, which are responsible for bringing in much of Iran's export revenue.
Russia's deputy foreign minister has accused some Western nations of plotting military action against Iran over its nuclear program.
Based on dpa and AFP reporting