TEHRAN (AFP) – The UN atomic watchdog’s number two was in Tehran on Thursday for a new round of talks on Iran’s nuclear drive as Western governments said the time had come for the Security Council to impose fresh sanctions.
The two-day visit comes a day after six world powers discussed Iran’s response to their latest offer to resolve the nuclear standoff, which has helped push world oil prices to record levels.
It was not clear if Heinonen’s visit was directly related to the incentives being offered to Iran to freeze uranium enrichment activities, a process that Western nations fear could be diverted to build an atomic weapon.
A diplomat close to the International Atomic Energy Agency said Heinonen’s visit was likely to concentrate on clarifying outstanding questions the watchdog has about Iran’s nuclear programme rather than the incentives offer.
Heinonen has made a series of visits to Iran as part of the agency’s longstanding efforts to make sure there is no military dimension to the programme, the last on April 28.
That visit focused on studies that the IAEA suspects Iran carried out in the past into the engineering involved in making a nuclear warhead.
But a source at the Iranian atomic energy organisation insisted that these “alleged studies” would not be on the agenda of the new talks.
In his last report on Iran in May, IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei accused Tehran of withholding key information on the so-called weaponisation studies.
Iran dismissed the allegations as “baseless”, insisting it had provided a comprehensive response.
It has since gone further, with Vice President Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, who heads Iran’s atomic energy organisation, insisting that the alleged weaponisation studies were not a matter for the UN watchdog.
“We are dealing with it through other channels. Measures have already been taken and we will follow them up if necessary and if appropriate,” Aghazadeh said last month.
On Wednesday, Britain and the United States said the six powers now had “no choice” but to seek new UN sanctions after Iran failed to give a “clear positive response” to their latest offer of trade and technology incentives in return for an enrichment freeze.
The two governments said there was now agreement among the six powers, which also include China, France, Germany and Russia, that a new sanctions resolution should be discussed at the Security Council.
The powers “have agreed that, while informal contacts between (EU foreign policy chief Javier) Solana and (Iranian negotiator Saeed) Jalili will continue, we now have no choice but to pursue further sanctions against Iran, as part of our dual-track strategy,” British junior foreign minister Kim Howells said.
But Russia’s UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he was unaware of any such consensus on sanctions.
“It may well be that in the course of those discussions some members of the six raised the issue of the sanctions,” Churkin said. “But to the best of my knowledge there has been no firm agreement or understanding or concerted work in this regard.”
Churkin said that the Group of Eight wealthy industrialised countries would discuss the issue of whether to seek further sanctions at a ministerial meeting next month.
He added that ministerial talks by six major powers on a new round of sanctions were likely to continue during the UN General Assembly session scheduled from September 23 to October 1.
“The main thing to remember is the negotiating track is open… There are contacts between the parties… We need to focus very much on the negotiating opportunities which this may produce,” Churkin said.
The Security Council has already ordered three rounds of sanctions against Iran over its defiance.
The United States and its allies say Iran’s nuclear programme could be a cover to develop atomic weapons and Washington has never ruled out military action over the standoff.
But Iran insists that as a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it has the right to develop nuclear technology which it says is aimed at generating electricity for its growing population.