VIENNA, (Reuters) – The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said on Friday he and Iran’s chief negotiator had agreed to draw up a “plan of action” within two months on how to resolve questions about Iran’s disputed nuclear program.
International Atomic Energy Agency Director Mohamed ElBaradei described the two-hour meeting with Ali Larijani as “quite satisfying.” “I hope we should be in a position in the next weeks to move forward and break the stalemate where we have been in for the last few months,” ElBaradei told reporters. He said they were drawing up “a plan of action which I hope we should be able to conclude within two months” and then start implementing.
Larijani also spoke of “good progress,” but they reported no breakthrough in the core dispute — Iran’s defiance of U.N. demands to stop uranium enrichment.
Diplomats say that about a year ago, Iran agreed with the IAEA to come up with a plan for resolving outstanding issues within three weeks, but never followed through.
Larijani is due to meet EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana in Lisbon on Saturday, seen as the last chance to overcome a stand-off over Tehran’s nuclear defiance before world powers start drafting tougher sanctions against it.
Solana has been exploring a face-saving way to allow the Islamic Republic to stop enriching uranium. “I believe our talks with Mr. ElBaradei today will be quite helpful with the process that Mr. Solana is working on to reach an understanding and a solution,” Larijani said after the meeting.
The United States, Britain, Russia, France, Germany and China are discussing a third round of penalties against Iran over concerns it is secretly trying to build atomic bombs.
Ratcheting up the pressure on the Islamic state, a British draft for a new U.N. sanctions resolution proposed that Iran’s airlines and ships could be denied landing and transit rights and two or more of its banks could have their assets frozen.
Britain also suggested banning new arms contracts with Iran, barring senior Iranian security officials from air travel and halting work by Russia on Iran’s nuclear power reactor at Bushehr, according to the draft, obtained by Reuters. “Even if the U.N. threatens Iran with more sanctions, the country will not stop its uranium enrichment activities,” Larijani said, according to Iran’s official news agency, IRNA.
Iran has refused U.N. demands to halt enrichment, which yields fuel for power plants but can also be used for weapons if the uranium is refined to a much higher degree. Tehran says its goal is the peaceful electricity generation.
The latest meetings come amid IAEA concern about increasing Iranian restrictions on access for agency inspectors, imposed in retaliation for existing sanctions.
Since February, Iran has rapidly expanded a centrifuge operation at its Natanz enrichment complex in a bid for “industrial-scale” fuel production.
ElBaradei has urged Iran to answer IAEA questions about its program, including suspected military links, and to reconsider a decision to stop providing advance design information about planned nuclear installations to the agency.
Tehran has insisted the U.N. Security Council must first return authority over its file to the Vienna-based IAEA, which would end sanctions pressure — a nonstarter for Western powers.
Instead of freezing all enrichment-related activity, as the Security Council has demanded, Iran has accelerated the program and says it has passed the point of no return. “When the world saw that the (Iranian) nation is pursuing this goal with unity, the world surrendered,” Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Pourmohammadi was quoted by ISNA news agency as saying. “We have passed the dangerous moment.”
The Security Council has already imposed two rounds of limited sanctions on Iran over its refusal to stop enrichment.
Iran has about 2,000 centrifuges installed as of early June, most of them enriching uranium, and is likely to reach the 3,000 threshold by the end of July, diplomats have said.
Three thousand could produce material for one bomb within a year if run nonstop at supersonic speed. Iran has yet to demonstrate such capability and probably remains a few years away from being able to build a bomb, analysts say.