TEHRAN (Reuters) – The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog met Iranian leaders on Saturday to push for swifter cooperation in resolving questions about Tehran’s atomic activity, which the West fears will be used to make bombs.
International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei held talks with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and will, for the first time, meet Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on nuclear policy.
A senior Iranian official said on Friday, after talks with ElBaradei, that the meeting with Khamenei would involve an “important exchange of information.” He did not elaborate and no time has been announced for the meeting.
ElBaradei met chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili before going into talks with Ahmadinejad, who has taken a hardline stand in the row with the West. There was no immediate word on the outcome.
The IAEA chief, seeking to defuse a standoff that has helped send oil prices to record levels and sparked fears of a military confrontation, is expected to hold a news conference before returning to Vienna early on Sunday morning.
His two-day trip to Tehran, which began on Friday, coincides with renewed tension between Iran and the United States over a naval incident in the oil-rich Gulf last Sunday.
Washington is seeking to isolate Iran over atomic activities it suspects have military aims. Iran says it only wants to generate electricity and has refused to heed demands to halt sensitive nuclear work despite two rounds of U.N. sanctions.
ElBaradei urged Tehran to boost cooperation in talks with Iran’s atomic energy chief Gholamreza Aghazadeh on Friday. “I asked Mr. Aghazadeh to give us maximum transparency and provide assurances about all present nuclear activities,” he said.
The Vienna-based IAEA has sought to verify that Iran’s uranium enrichment program is geared solely to producing civilian energy.
A diplomat close to the IAEA said before ElBaradei’s visit that an IAEA inquiry stonewalled by Iran for years until August had entered a final phase with Iran addressing U.S. intelligence about past, covert attempts to “weaponize” atomic material.
Iran said in August it would answer outstanding questions about its nuclear past but an end-of-year target for completing the process passed with the sensitive issues still unresolved.
ElBaradei’s visit coincides with a Middle East tour by U.S. President George W. Bush, who has called Iran a “threat to world peace” and is seeking Arab support to rein in Iran.
In Washington on Friday, the top U.S. military officer said last Sunday’s encounter between U.S. Navy ships and Iranian boats in the Gulf showed Iran posed a threat and that the United States was ready to counter it.