BRUSSELS - Iran's envoy to the UN atomic watchdog said that he expected "progress" in talks Friday in which the agency wants to press Tehran to address suspicions of covert nuclear weapons research work.
"We are expecting progress at this meeting," Tehran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told reporters as he went into the meeting, the first since June, at Iran's embassy in Vienna.
"The fact that we are continuing these talks with the agency indicates that we are determined to move to a positive conclusion.... Both sides are trying to bridge the gap," he said, without elaborating.
The IAEA wants Iran to address evidence it has amassed suggesting that at least until 2003, and possibly since, Tehran carried out "activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device."
The IAEA wants access to specific documents and to scientists involved in Iran's program, as well as to sites, including the Parchin military base near Tehran, which it visited twice in 2005 but now wants to look at again.
Iran rejects Western accusations that it is seeking to develop atomic weapons and says that its nuclear program is peaceful.
Iran has said it will meet the agency's demands if this forms part of a wider arrangement governing relations between Iran and the watchdog that experts and diplomats say would limit to an unacceptable degree the IAEA's inspection rights.
The IAEA has also made several fruitless visits to Iran this year, and agency head Yukiya Amano said Wednesday he was not "optimistic" about this latest effort, which comes amid fevered speculation of military strikes by Israel.
Going into Friday's talks the IAEA's chief inspector, Herman Nackaerts, told reporters he wanted to "seek agreement on a structured approach to resolve all the outstanding issues."
He added: "And of course we will also ask Iran where they are with their responses to our requests for access to Parchin and other questions that we have asked Iran."
The meeting comes ahead of the release, possibly next week, of the IAEA's latest quarterly report on Iran which is expected to show that Tehran is continuing to expand its nuclear program despite sanctions and talk of war.
Western diplomats told AFP they expected the report to say that Iran had installed but not yet started operating more centrifuges to enrich uranium to purities of 20 percent at its Fordo facility, set in a mountain near Qom.
Enriched uranium is the main concern of the international community because it can be used not only in power generation and for medical isotopes but when purified to 90 percent also in the explosive core of a nuclear bomb. (AFP)