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IAEA Team to Return to Iran Soon: Top Inspector

Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment facility, shown in 2007. A high-level International Atomic Energy Agency team plans to visit Iran again in the near future, IAEA safeguards chief Herman Nackaerts said on Wednesday after returning from a three-day trip to the Middle Eastern state (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian). Iran's Natanz uranium enrichment facility, shown in 2007. A high-level International Atomic Energy Agency team plans to visit Iran again in the near future, IAEA safeguards chief Herman Nackaerts said on Wednesday after returning from a three-day trip to the Middle Eastern state (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian).

A high-level delegation of International Atomic Energy Agency officials intends to travel to Iran again "in the very near future," the group's leader said upon returning Wednesday from a three-day trip aimed at resolving points of dispute over the country's past atomic activities (see GSN, Jan. 31).

"We had three days of intensive discussions about all our priorities, and we are committed to resolve all the outstanding issues," the Associated Press quoted IAEA safeguards chief Herman Nackaerts as saying after the team arrived in Vienna, Austria. "And the Iranians said they are committed, too."

"But, of course, there's still a lot of work to be done," Nackaerts said. "So we have planned another trip in the very near future."

"We had a good trip," he added, without elaborating on his group's accomplishments.

The official's remarks suggested the trip had yielded substantive results, according to AP, which quoted envoys as saying before the visit that the U.N. nuclear watchdog representatives would primarily seek to increase Tehran's willingness to address indications it has pursued nuclear activities relevant to bomb development. The agency in November noted "serious concerns" that the Persian Gulf regional power was seeking a nuclear-weapon capacity; Tehran insists its atomic activities are strictly nonmilitary in nature (see GSN, Nov. 9, 2011).

Iran faced slim odds of assuaging the IAEA officials with ambiguous commitments or complex proposals with the potential to further delay their investigation, diplomatic officials said before the visit. Any forward movement in the agency's efforts would be of importance in the intensifying standoff over Iran's nuclear activities and amid speculation that preparations for a military attack on the nation are under way in Israel, according to AP (George Jahn, Associated Press I/USA Today, Feb. 1).

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said: "We had very good meetings and we planned to continue these negotiations," Reuters reported.

"The team had some questions about the claimed studies. One step has been taken forward," Salehi told Iran's Fars News Agency, referring to Iran's purported nuclear-weapon research.

"We were ready to show them our nuclear facilities, but they didn't ask for it," Reuters quoted the minister as saying. The U.N. nuclear watchdog conducts routine inspections of Iran's atomic sites.

Senior nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili has expressed Tehran's willingness to join further multilateral atomic discussions, Salehi said. The five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany convened talks with Tehran on two separate occasions in December 2010 and January 2011, but neither gathering yielded clear progress toward resolving the dispute (see GSN, Jan. 24, 2011).

"I hope this meeting takes place in the not too distant future," Salehi said of a potential new gathering (Michael Shields, Reuters I, Feb. 1).

The IAEA delegation's trip demonstrated that Iran maintains "comprehensive and honest cooperation with the agency," Mohammad Karamirad, a member of the Iranian parliament national security body, said on Tuesday in remarks reported by AP.

"The visit can be beginning of new round of talks with the West, and it proves the peacefulness of Iran's nuclear activities," Karamirad told the Iranian Students' News Agency (Nasser Karimi, Associated Press II/San Diego Union-Tribune, Jan. 31).

It would become clear within weeks if Iran is open to making "pragmatic steps" to satisfy global fears over its atomic activities, though answering the questions in full would require a lengthy process, former IAEA safeguards chief Olli Heinonen told Reuters.

"It is of great importance that the IAEA experts will have unfettered access to information, sites, equipment and people, who have been involved in the military-related activities," Heinonen said (Shields, Reuters 1).

Meanwhile, U.S. Representative Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) are expected to submit comparable legislative proposals to require a Treasury Department probe of potential links between Iran's Revolutionary Guard and the country's national petroleum and oil shipment firms, Bloomberg Businessweek on Wednesday quoted legislative staffers as saying. Positive findings would enable potential U.S. penalties against business affiliates of National Iranian Oil and National Iranian Tanker, the sources said (Indira Lakshmanan, Bloomberg Businessweek, Feb. 1).

Canada announced it would add five firms and three people to a financial blacklist in a move targeting Iran's disputed atomic efforts, the Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday.

"These sanctions cover the known leadership of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and block virtually all financial transactions with Iran, including those with the central bank," Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said in released remarks.

The list already encompasses 339 organizations and 49 people (Alistair MacDonald, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 31).

South Korean and Japanese representatives are expected in Thursday talks to seek details from their U.S. counterparts on quantities of Iranian petroleum their countries can import under unilateral penalties enacted by Washington, Reuters reported (Laurence/Kajimoto, Reuters III, Feb. 1).

Asked on Tuesday what "red line" Iran's nuclear program could pass to prompt a more aggressive U.S. reaction, National Intelligence Director James Clapper said, "enrichment of uranium to a 90 percent level would be a pretty good indicator of their seriousness," CNN reported (see related GSN story, today).

Additional uranium refinement would be a "telltale indicator," CIA Director David Petraeus added in a U.S. Senate intelligence committee hearing (CNN, Jan. 31).

Saudi petroleum output is seemingly "ramping up" and could partially compensate for supply shortages created by bans on Iranian oil purchases, Reuters quoted Petraeus as saying (Tabassum Zakaria, Reuters IV, Jan. 31). The European Union last week finalized a six-month time line for prohibiting petroleum purchases from Iran.

The CIA chief and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) each acknowledged meeting with Israeli intelligence chief Tamir Pardo in Washington last week, Agence France-Presse reported (Agence France-Presse/Google News, Jan. 31).

In Jerusalem, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday expressed to Israel's president his concern over potential defense-related elements of Iran's atomic activities, the Jerusalem Post reported.

"I have been urging the Iranian authorities to prove that their nuclear program is genuinely for peaceful purposes. I think they have not yet convinced the international community," he said.

“These issues can be resolved in a peaceful way through dialogue. There is no alternative to a peaceful resolution,” Ban added (Jerusalem Post, Feb. 1).

"Nuclear weapons mustn't be allowed to fall into the hands of Iran's Ayatollah regime," Haaretz quoted Israeli President Shimon Peres as saying. "It is the duty of the international community to prevent evil and nuclear (weapons) from coming together. That is the obligations of most of the leaders of the free world, one which they must meet" (Haaretz, Jan. 31).

Washington should take additional steps to increase the plausibility of a potential armed strike against Iranian atomic sites, Reuters quoted the Bipartisan Policy Center as saying in a report issued on Wednesday (Arshad Mohammed, Reuters V, Feb. 1).

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