- Wednesday, 22 February 2012 03:30
VIENNA (Reuters) - The U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Wednesday it had failed to secure an agreement with Iran during talks over disputed atomic activities and that the Islamic Republic had rejected a request to visit a military site.
The failure of the two-day meeting may hamper any resumption of wider nuclear negotiations between Iran and six world powers and add to rising tension with the West, which has stepped up sanctions on the major oil producer in recent months.
A team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had hoped to inspect a site at Parchin, southeast of the capital Tehran, where the agency believes there is a containment chamber to test explosives, suggesting possible weapon development. Iran has denied the charge that it is developing nuclear weapons.
"During both the first and second round of discussions, the agency team requested access to the military site at Parchin. Iran did not grant permission for this visit to take place," the Vienna-based IAEA said in a statement.
"It is disappointing that Iran did not accept our request to visit Parchin. We engaged in a constructive spirit, but no agreement was reached," said IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano.
Earlier, Iran's envoy to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told the country's ISNA news agency that Tehran expected to hold more talks with the U.N. agency, whose task it is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons in the world.
But Amano's spokeswoman, Gill Tudor, made clear no further meetings were planned: "At this point in time there is no agreement on further discussions," she said.
Iran rejects accusations that its nuclear program is a covert bid to develop a nuclear weapons capability, saying it is seeking to produce only electricity.
But its refusal to curb sensitive atomic activities which can have both civilian and military purposes, and its track record of years of nuclear secrecy has drawn increasingly tough U.N. and separate U.S. and European measures.
The United States and Israel have not ruled out using force against Iran if they conclude that diplomacy and sanctions will not stop it from developing a nuclear bomb.
In Washington, no immediate comment was available from the U.S. State Department on the IAEA statement.
STILL TIME FOR DIPLOMACY?
An IAEA report, published in November, suggested Iran had pursued military nuclear technology and helped precipitate the latest rounds of sanctions by the European Union and United States, which are causing economic hardship in Iran before a parliamentary election in March.
One key finding was information that Iran had built a large containment chamber at Parchin in which to conduct high-explosives tests. The U.N. agency said there were "strong indicators of possible weapon development."
The IAEA said intensive efforts had been made to reach agreement on a document "facilitating the clarification of unresolved issues" in connection with Iran's nuclear program.
"Unfortunately, agreement was not reached on this document," it said in an unusually blunt statement.
The IAEA mission's lack of progress may have an impact on the chance of any resumption of wider nuclear negotiations between Iran and the six world powers, the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany.
The West last week expressed some optimism at the prospect of new talks, particularly after Iran sent a letter to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton promising to bring "new initiatives," without stating preconditions.
But the United States and its allies may become more reluctant if they feel that the Islamic state is unlikely to engage in substantive discussions about its nuclear activities.
The deputy head of Iran's armed forces was quoted on Tuesday as saying Iran would take pre-emptive action against its enemies if it felt its national interests were endangered.
"Our strategy now is that if we feel our enemies want to endanger Iran's national interests, and want to decide to do that, we will act without waiting for their actions," Mohammad Hejazi told the Fars news agency.
In retaliation for oil sanctions, Iran, the world's fifth-largest crude exporter, has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, conduit for a third of the world's seaborne oil, while the United States signaled it would use force to keep it open.
The White House has said there was still time for diplomacy.
"Israel and the United States share the same objective, which is to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," White House spokesman Jay Carney said when asked about a weekend visit to Israel by National Security Advisor Tom Donilon.
"There is time and space for diplomacy to work, for the effect of sanctions to result in a change of Iranian behavior."
(Editing by Ralph Gowling and Elizabeth Piper)