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UN nuclear inspectors in Iran, no sign of Parchin visit

By Reuters - Dec 13,2012 - Last updated at Dec 13,2012

DUBAI — UN nuclear inspectors were in Tehran on Thursday for talks on Iran’s disputed atomic activities but there was no sign they would gain access to the Parchin military complex as requested.

The Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) said the seven-member International Atomic Energy Agency delegation headed by Deputy Director General Herman Nackaerts would meet Iranian nuclear officials.

“No plans were announced yet for inspectors to visit Iran’s nuclear facilities or other sites,” ISNA said, without giving a source. There was no immediate word on whether the planned one day of talks had any concrete outcome.

The talks are the first between the UN agency and Iran since August when the two sides failed to make any progress on a long-stalled IAEA investigation into suspected atom bomb research in the country.

The meeting could give some indication whether Iran — which denies it wants to develop such weaponry — is more willing to address international concerns over its nuclear work after US President Barack Obama’s re-election last month.

Israel has threatened military action if diplomacy and economic sanctions intended to halt Iran’s uranium enrichment activities fail to resolve the long-standing dispute.

Iranian state media reported that the inspectors arrived early on Thursday but did not say whether the meeting had actually started. The main state television news broadcast in the evening did not mention the IAEA visit at all.

The IAEA wants an agreement that would enable its inspectors to visit the Parchin military complex and other sites that it suspects may be linked to what it has called the “possible military dimensions” to Iran’s nuclear programme.

The agency believes Iran has conducted explosives tests with possible nuclear applications at Parchin, a sprawling facility southeast of Tehran, and has repeatedly asked for access.

New Parchin ‘layout’?

Iran says Parchin is a conventional military site and has dismissed allegations that it has tried to clean up the site before any visit.

Western diplomats say Iran has carried out extensive work at Parchin over the past year — including demolition of buildings and removal of soil — to cleanse it of any traces of illicit activity. But the IAEA said a visit would still be “useful”.

A US think tank said late on Wednesday that new satellite imagery showed “what appears to be the ‘reconstruction’ phase” of the site at Parchin that the IAEA wants to see, following “considerable alterations” there earlier in the year.

“A new site layout is taking shape and the presence of dirt piles and a considerable number of earth-moving vehicles and cars suggest that construction is continuing at a steady pace,” the Institute for Science and International Security said.

It said imagery dated December 9 indicated a new, almost completed security perimeter around the site: “Notable are further changes to the two major buildings at the site which appear to have been covered with white or grey roofing.”

When he left Vienna on Wednesday, Nackaerts said the team hoped to gain access to Parchin. Other members of the delegation carried what appeared to be cases of inspection equipment.

A senior member of Iran’s parliament made critical remarks about the UN nuclear watchdog, accusing it of relying on “unreliable” reports by its foes’ spy services.

“As long as the agency has a political view ... and as long as it trusts unreliable reports from American, British and [Israeli]spying agencies ... it is natural that the numerous travels of the agency’s inspectors will not lead to positive results,” lawmaker Hossein Naqavi Hosseini told parliamentary news agency Icana.

The IAEA’s talks with Iran are separate from — but closely linked to — efforts by six countries to resolve the decade-long nuclear dispute.

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