International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Yukiya Amano met the head of Iran's nuclear energy organization, Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani, hours after his pre-dawn arrival, according to ISNA news agency.
Amano, who was on his first trip to Iran since taking office in 2009, a period marked by rising tension between the IAEA and Tehran, was also due to meet Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili and Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Monday. He was greeted at Tehran airport by Iran's IAEA ambassador.
“I really think this is the right time to reach agreement. Nothing is certain but I stay positive,” Amano, a veteran Japanese diplomat with long experience in nuclear proliferation and disarmament affairs, said before departure from Vienna airport. He added that “good progress” had already been made.
But while Amano scheduled Monday's talks with Iran at such short notice that diplomats said agreement on improved IAEA access in Iran seemed near, few see Tehran convincing Western governments to ease back swiftly on punitive sanctions when its negotiators meet global power envoys in Baghdad on Wednesday.
Two days after seeing Amano, Jalili will hold talks in the Iraqi capital with Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief heading a six-power coalition comprised of the five UN Security Council permanent members plus Germany.
By promising extended cooperation with UN inspectors, diplomats say Iran might aim for leverage going into the broader negotiations where the United States and its allies want Iran to curb works they say are a cover for developing nuclear weapons.
Intensifying Western sanctions on Iran's energy exports, and threats by Israel and Washington of military action, have pushed up world oil prices, compounding economic misery wrought by debt crises in many industrialized countries.
Some Western diplomats said Amano, given a recent history of strained relations with Iran, would pay a rare visit to Tehran only if he believed a framework agreement to give his inspectors freer hands in their investigation was close. Iran has been stonewalling IAEA requests for better access since 2008.
“Either they (IAEA) are very sure that they have an agreement or he is simply upping the ante to get an agreement, he is going in at the highest level the agency can. (But) with Iran nothing is ever in the bag,” said a European diplomat.
“We regard the visit ... as a gesture of goodwill,” Salehi said. He hoped for agreement on a “new modality” to work with the IAEA that would “help clear up the ambiguities”.
The UN watchdog is seeking access to sites, nuclear officials and scientists and documents to shed light on work in Iran applicable to developing the capability to make nuclear weapons, especially the Parchin military complex outside Tehran.
Two meetings between Iran and senior Amano aides in Tehran in January and February failed to make any notable progress. But both sides were more upbeat after another round of talks in Vienna last week, raising hopes for a deal.
“We need to keep up the momentum. There has been good progress during the recent round of discussions between Iran and the IAEA,” Amano said, adding he did not expect to visit Parchin during his short, one-day stay in Tehran.