UN experts returned from Tehran on Friday without sealing a long-sought deal that would restart a probe of suspicions that Iran worked on atomic arms, adding to doubts that upcoming talks between six world powers and the Islamic Republic will succeed.
Herman Nackaerts, who headed the team of International Atomic Energy Agency experts, said the two sides would meet again in the Iranian capital Feb. 12. But even if those talks make progress, they will come too late for an Iran-six nation meeting tentatively scheduled for the end of this month.
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Those nations - the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - had looked to the Tehran meeting as providing a signal for Iranian readiness to compromise when they sit down with Tehran.
They hope those talks will result in an Iranian agreement to stop enriching uranium to a level higher than that could be turned into the fissile core of nuclear arms.
By compromising on the IAEA probe, Iran could have argued that the onus was now on the six powers to show some flexibility, temper their demands, and roll back US and European sanctions that have hit Iran's critical oil exports and blacklisted the country from international banking networks.
Although Tehran may hope that agreement to meet again next month with the IAEA shows it is interested in a deal, that may be too little for the six powers, who are growingly frustrated that their own talks with Tehran have barely progressed.
Hiding the dirty laundry?
Iran has stopped answering questions about allegations that it secretly did research and development work on such arms more than four years ago, saying it had provided enough information to disprove the claims.
New attempts to restart the investigation have dragged on for more than a year, with Tehran insisting on a detailed outline of what UN experts of the International Atomic Energy Agency may or may not do in their investigations.
Two diplomats familiar with the team's negotiations said the main sticking points were Iran's insistence that it be allowed to look at intelligence from the United States, Israel and other IAEA member nations that the agency is using in its probe and its demands that any investigation not be open-ended.
But the agency cannot share intelligence without permission from the nation that provides it and says it cannot accept limits on its probe because one piece of evidence may lead to a whole new line of questions involving new sites.
Nackaerts, in brief arrival comments Friday said that "differences remain," and no deal was reached. Agency officials say they are willing to continue negotiations but some privately have described the delays as a tactic to further stall the investigations.
They are particularly concerned that such delays can hurt their efforts to investigate the military site known as Parchin, where the IAEA suspects that Iran has conducted live tests of conventional explosives that could be used to detonate a nuclear change and they have cited satellite photos indicating a cleanup there.
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