Iran said it recognizes the right of United Nations monitors to seek visits to sensitive sites and question nuclear officials, meeting one requirement for the accord diplomats are seeking to conclude in the next few days.
In the first such interpretation of what the International Atomic Energy Agency’s so-called Additional Protocol allows, a senior Iranian negotiator told reporters in Vienna that, should a deal be reached, monitors will receive broad access to facilities, potentially including military locations. Iran won’t though allow itself to be coerced into exposing non-nuclear, military-industrial secrets, the envoy said, asking not to be named in line with diplomatic rules.
Alireza Miryusefi, an Iranian media official, later said via Twitter that the diplomat was commenting in general terms about the Additional Protocol but not specifically about its application in his country.
Different understandings over the rights and privileges granted to IAEA inspectors have been a cause of friction between Iran and Western nations. The Iranian negotiator’s comments, which came as IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano convened a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Tehran, suggest they may be able to bridge the gap.
Rouhani and Amano discussed how to speed resolution of the international community’s concerns about Iran’s past nuclear activities, the state-run IRNA news agency reported. Amano also met with Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, who helps oversee the military.
Six days into the final round of negotiations, diplomats say progress is building around an agreement that would eventually lift sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear activities. The U.S. and Europe extended their interim agreement with Iran until July 7 to try to win time to clinch a deal.
Russia’s deputy foreign minister and top negotiator, Sergei Ryabkov, told reporters in Vienna late Thursday that 90 percent of the deal is agreed and there is “a total commitment of all participants to end this process in the next few days.”
Differences over investigating any past military dimension to Iran’s nuclear work, and how quickly sanctions will be removed, have hindered progress at the negotiations. While the IAEA routinely highlighted a lack of Iranian cooperation over monitoring some locations, Iran has insisted its exclusively peaceful nuclear work was the target of bogus intelligence information.
Although the IAEA shouldn’t expect free rein to enter Iranian military facilities, the diplomat said his country supported giving them managed access when necessary. His interpretation of IAEA inspection rules hewed closely to those of a U.S. administration official who briefed journalists earlier this week.
It’s the first time that Iran has acknowledged the potentially far-reaching powers of inspections since the country voluntarily implemented the Additional Protocol about 10 years ago.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had met with Amano on several occasions this week in the Austrian capital, where foreign ministers from China, France, Germany and the U.K. are also involved in negotiations.
Differences between the two sides remain but they can be overcome, the Iranian official told a group of mainly Western journalists. Ryabkov said the question of checking past Iranian work is one of the issues still under discussion.
Should an accord be reached, Iran expects it to be sent for immediate consideration to the UN Security Council. European Union and U.S. sanctions should be lifted once the country complies with its obligations, which according to early drafts of the deal include dismantling two-thirds of its enrichment capacity and eliminating 97 percent of its uranium stockpile.
Iranian officials have said they can take steps to curb their nuclear activities quickly to speed sanctions relief. Kerry said April 2 in Lausanne, Switzerland, that he expected it would take four to six months for Iran to make changes to its program and for UN monitors to verify the curbs.
Privately, U.S. officials have said it may take as much as nine months before the deal is verified and sanctions relief granted.
Ryabkov said all six powers negotiating with Iran agree on the lifting of UN sanctions and a mechanism for re-imposing them in the event of a breach of the accord, and that “intensive” work is continuing to secure an agreement with the Islamic Republic.