By Fredrik Dahl
VIENNA (Reuters) - Six world powers demanded Iran keep its promise to let international inspectors visit a military installation where the U.N. nuclear watchdog believes explosives tests geared to developing atomic bombs may have taken place.
The joint call was an unusual show of unity among the powers on Iran before a planned revival of high-level talks as well as widening disquiet about the nature of Tehran's nuclear ambitions, with Israel threatening last-ditch military action.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei welcomed comments by U.S. President Barack Obama about a diplomatic "window of opportunity" offered by the talks, but said Washington's simultaneous moves to "bring the Iranian people to their knees" with sanctions were driven by delusion.
Heaping pressure on Iran to come clean, the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany used a U.N. nuclear watchdog governors' meeting on Thursday to urge Tehran to grant prompt access to its Parchin military facility.
They voiced concern that no deal was reached between Iran and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors at talks in January and February, "including on the access to relevant sites in Iran, requested by the agency ... We urge Iran to fulfil its undertaking to grant access to Parchin."
The message was reinforced by a remarkably blunt statement from IAEA director Yukiya Amano accusing Tehran of seeking to "tie our hands" and restrict inspectors during their last two rounds of meetings.
His deputy Herman Nackaerts told Thursday's closed session of the IAEA board of governors session, according to one participant: "Due to major differences between Iran and the agency, agreement could not be reached."
Nackaerts, the IAEA's chief safeguards inspector, said it had information from satellite pictures showing "the precise location where we believe an explosive chamber is situated".
Iran media reports this week suggested a visit to Parchin might still be granted but the IAEA said on Thursday Tehran had not contacted it formally about any trip.
Iran's IAEA ambassador, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, told reporters outside the board meeting that the suspicions aired about Parchin were "childish" and "ridiculous". He did not elaborate.
GETTING RID OF TELLTALE EVIDENCE?
Western diplomats briefed by a senior IAEA official last week said Iran might be delaying an inspectors' trip to Parchin so that it could first clear away evidence of research with high explosives tests relevant to designing a nuclear bomb.
The six powers made no mention of "sanitising" the Parchin premises in their statement at this week's session of the 35-nation board of the IAEA, the Vienna-based U.N. agency.
But their language regarding Parchin and other aspects of Iran's shadowy nuclear programme sent a message to Tehran of a cohesive big-power approach to tackling the stand-off, which has stirred fears of war that could inflame the Middle East and send oil prices skyrocketing at a time of global economic downturn.
The six powers voiced "regret" about Iran's escalating campaign to enrich uranium, which can yield material for electricity or nuclear bombs and is now centred in a mountain bunker chosen as protection from air strikes.
Iran, facing sanctions targeting its oil exports for defying international demands to curb its nuclear activities, denies suspicions of a camouflaged attempt to develop atom bombs, insisting it wants nuclear power for electricity generation.
But Israel, seeing Iran's nuclear advances as a mortal threat, doubts sanctions and diplomacy will rein in its arch-enemy and is speaking more stridently of resorting to pre-emptive bombings of Iranian nuclear sites.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would give sanctions on Iran a chance to work and would not attack its nuclear installations in the coming days or weeks.
"I am not standing with a stopwatch in hand. It is not a matter days or weeks, but also not a matter of years. Everybody understands this," he told Israeli television Channel 10.
Israel, believed to harbour the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, has asked the United States for advanced "bunker-buster" bombs and refuelling planes that could improve its ability to attack Iran's underground nuclear sites, an Israeli official said on Thursday.
A U.S. official confirmed Netanyahu and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta discussed military capabilities but said no deals were struck during those talks.
A U.S. Air Force general said a 30,000-pound (13,600-kg) bunker buster bomb designed to smash through some 200 feet (65 metres) of concrete before exploding is a "great weapon" that could be used by U.S. forces in a clash with Iran.
REVIVING BIG POWER TALKS WITH IRAN
Temporarily quieting the sabre-rattling, the European Union's foreign policy chief announced on Tuesday the powers had accepted Iran's offer to revive talks after a year's standstill.
The Islamic Republic's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili last month promised to float "new initiatives" at the talks, whose venue and date are not yet decided.
But Iran's ambassador to France, Ali Ahani, said on Thursday its "inalienable" right to enrich uranium would not be on the table - a stance redolent of past talks that ran aground over an inability to agree even on an agenda.
Obama on Monday warned against "bluster" and "loose talk of war" over Iran, which he felt had driven up oil prices, and said he was convinced "that an opportunity remains for diplomacy - backed by pressure - to succeed".
Khamenei hailed Obama's reference to opportunity. "We heard two days ago that the U.S. president said that (they) are not thinking about war with Iran. These words are good words and an exit from delusion," Khamenei was quoted by IRNA as saying.
But Khamenei's praise for a U.S. leader, rare for Iran's paramount conservative clerical leader, was tempered by criticism of what he called an Obama remark about "bringing the Iranian people to their knees through sanctions".
The United States has succeeded in severely limiting Iran's access to global financial services and in extending its own ban on Iranian oil to the European Union and beyond.
An IAEA report last year revealed a trove of intelligence pointing to research activities in Iran of use in developing the means and technologies needed to assemble nuclear weapons, should it decide to do so.
One salient finding was information that Iran had built a large containment chamber at Parchin in which to conduct high-explosives tests that the IAEA said are "strong indicators of possible weapon development".
(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris, Marcus George in Dubai, Mayaan Lubell in Jerusalem; Writing by Mark Heinrich; Editing by Andrew Heavens)
BEFORE YOU GO
06/19/2012 9:05 AM EDT
Moscow talks make little progress.
MOSCOW — A top Russian official made a last-ditch effort to save talks over Iran's nuclear program from collapse Tuesday, holding a meeting with Iran's chief envoy.
But diplomats said the negotiations remained deadlocked as they went into a second and possibly final day, with the presidents of the United States and Russia urging Iran to agree to curb nuclear activities that could be turned toward arming warheads and Iran demanding a lifting of sanctions crippling its oil industry.
Read more on HuffPost World.
06/18/2012 12:09 PM EDT
Iran, West start nuclear talks.
MOSCOW, June 18 (Reuters) - World powers began two days of talks with Iran on Monday to try to end a decade-long stand-off over Tehran's nuclear programme and avert the threat of a new war in the Middle East.
In Iran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tehran would be prepared to stop enriching uranium to a higher level - a process that could be used to make nuclear arms - if the six powers agreed to meet its needs for the fuel. But it is not clear how much influence Ahmadinejad has over the negotiations and whether his remarks reflect Tehran's position in the talks.
Read the full article on HuffPost World.
06/13/2012 6:50 PM EDT
All proposals on the table.
TEHRAN, Iran -- Proposals from both Iran and the group of six world powers will be on the table for nuclear talks in Moscow next week, not just the West's demand to halt Iran's highest level uranium enrichment, Iran's top negotiator said Wednesday.
Read more on HuffPost World.
06/08/2012 10:20 AM EDT
New round of nuke talks.
VIENNA, June 8 (Reuters) - Iran and the United Nations nuclear watchdog began a new round of talks on Friday in an attempt to seal a deal to resume a long-stalled probe into suspected atomic weapon research in the Islamic state.
Read the full story on HuffPost World.
06/08/2012 7:33 AM EDT
Ahmadinejad: 'Iran won't build nuclear bomb.'
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran's president says Iran has no intention of building nuclear weapons, but fear would not deter it if it decided to make them.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's comments suggest a toughening of Iran's position ahead of June 18-19 talks with world powers over Tehran's nuclear program.
The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany want Iran to shut down its highest level uranium enrichment facilities. Ahmadinejad's remarks suggest Iran would refuse.
Ahmadinejad made the comments during a meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday in China. His remarks were posted on his website.
The U.S. and its allies suspect Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes like power generation and cancer treatment. (AP)
06/06/2012 12:03 PM EDT
Smuggling of epic proportions
The BBC reports that $20 billion worth of goods -- the equivalent of nearly 30 percent of the country’s annual official trade -- are smuggled into Iran's borders every year.
Watch the full story here.
06/03/2012 3:11 PM EDT
Clinton draws no conclusions
STOCKHOLM — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton says she's not drawing any conclusions about what effect the latest hash words from Iran might have on the potential success of upcoming nuclear talks in Moscow.
05/31/2012 2:08 PM EDT
Iran's Forrest Gump.
Iranian-born Reza Baluchi is a regular Forrest Gump. Ten years ago he ran away from Iran. He’s run across the United States twice since then, once around its perimeter. Yet now he’s planning his biggest journey of all, CNN reports, a run around the world that will take him through his home country once more.
It started when he ran away from home at the age of eight. Later he ran away from his homeland, Iran, and spent seven years on a bicycle, pedaling 49,700 miles across 55 countries.
In 2002, he reached America. He now lives in a tent in Death Valley.
It's been nearly 10 years since Reza Baluchi escaped from Iran. He has run across the United States twice and around its perimeter once. He sets out on every journey with the same mission: to spread a message of world peace.
Read the full story here.
05/31/2012 2:01 PM EDT
Jackson Pollock painting returned.
After being seized by Iranian customs over a monetary dispute, a painting by Jackson Pollock has been returned to the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art in Iran, the BBC reports.
Mural on Indian Red Ground was seized by the country's customs service on 11 May after being on loan to Japan.
The service said it confiscated the work over money owed by the Ministry of Culture, which runs the museum.
The ministry said the painting had been returned "after negotiations.”
Read the full story here.
05/29/2012 7:24 PM EDT
Dissident blogger in Iran.
Hossein Ronaghi Maleki, a 26-year-old Iranian dissident blogger, has spent the past 13 months in solitary confinement at Iran’s Evin Prison, BBC Persian reports.
International Business Times reports that Maleki has written a letter to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, including the following passage:
“Leader of the Islamic Republic,
We must admit that judicial independence is not possible with the existence of so many intelligence and security entities.
We must admit that the society is facing a great explosion, and the current superficial peace is basically due to oppression, intimidation, imprisonments and suppression.
We must know that the thoughts of freedom seekers cannot be enchained! Ideologies cannot be tortured! Truth cannot be suppressed!”