UN nuclear inspectors have arrived in Iran, hoping to shed light on suspected military aspects of Tehran's atomic work.
The arrival preceded the announcement of a delay
in a debate and possible vote by Iranian lawmakers on a ban on oil exports to Europe in revenge for new EU sanctions.
The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) delegation said he aimed to "resolve all the outstanding issues with Iran" over the nuclear program, which the West believes is aimed at making weapons but which Iran insists is peaceful.
"In particular we hope that Iran will engage with us on our concerns regarding the possible military dimensions of Iran's nuclear programme," IAEA Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts told reporters before departing from Vienna airport.
That may be a tall order, with Iran insisting its right to peaceful nuclear technology be recognized by skeptical countries which say its uranium-enrichment activities -- some of which have been moved to a bomb-proof bunker -- go beyond what is needed for atomic energy.
Tensions with the West rose this month when Washington and the European Union imposed the toughest sanctions yet in their campaign to force Tehran into making concessions. The measures take direct aim at the ability of OPEC's second-biggest oil
exporter to sell its crude.
Less than one week after the EU's 27 member states agreed to stop importing crude from Iran from July 1, reports suggested Iranian lawmakers would debate a bill to cut off oil supplies to the EU in a matter of days.
By turning the sanctions back on the EU, supporters of such a move hoped to deny the bloc a six-month window it had planned to give those of its members most dependent on Iranian oil -- including some of the most economically fragile in southern Europe -- to adapt.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle warned Tehran about trying to push the EU into a corner and said the EU would find ways "to compensate for delivery stoppages."
'Onus On Iran'
The UN has adopted four rounds of sanctions aimed at curbing Iran's sensitive nuclear activities, in addition to unilateral sanctions by the United States and Europe.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said this week
that "the onus is on Iran" to "prove themselves that their nuclear development program is genuinely for peaceful purposes, which they have not done yet."
Iranian state broadcaster Press TV quoted Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, as saying with respect to the current inspection mission that the goal is to "thwart plots by enemies who are leveling unfounded allegations."
The IAEA in November accused Tehran
of "activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device" and expressed "serious concerns" about suspected secret work that is "specific to nuclear weapons."
compiled from Reuters reports; with additional RFE/RL reporting