Tehran: The head of the UN nuclear agency is pushing for a breakthrough pact with Iran to resume inspections into suspected secret atomic weapons work and possibly set in motion further dealmaking when envoys from Tehran and world powers gather later this week in Baghdad.
Monday's mission by International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano, his first to Iran since taking the post in 2009, raised speculation about greater flexibility by Iranian officials as they struggle to balance the blows from Western sanctions and their insistence never to abandon the country's nuclear programme.
But any Iranian cooperation, including possibly opening up a military site to UN inspectors, will carry reciprocal demands that the West may consider reaching too far, too soon.
Tehran has already signalled its goal before tomorrow's talks: Pressing the US and Europe to roll back sanctions that have hit critical oil exports and blacklisted the country from international banking networks. The West's opening gambit, meanwhile, may aim at one of Iran's most prized advances, its ability to make nuclear fuel.
A main concern is Iran's production of uranium enriched to 20 percent, which is far higher than needed for regular energy-producing reactors but used in medical research. The US and allies fear the higher-enriched uranium could be quickly boosted to warhead-grade material.
Iran denies it seeks nuclear arms and says its reactors are only for power and medical applications.
US officials have said Washington will not backpedal from its stance that Iran must fully halt uranium enrichment.
But speculation is increasing that the priorities have shifted to block the 20 per cent enrichment and perhaps allow, at least for the moment, Iran to maintain lower-level nuclear fuel production.
Iranian officials could package such a scenario as a victory for their domestic audience. In Israel, it would likely be greeted with dismay and widen rifts between the Obama administration and Israeli officials who keep open the threat of military action against Iran's nuclear sites.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned against concessions, saying world powers should make "clear and unequivocal demands" that Iran stop all of its nuclear enrichment activity.
"Iran wants to destroy Israel and it is developing nuclear weapons to fulfil that goal," Netanyahu said at a conference for civil servants in Jerusalem. "Against this malicious intention, leading world powers need to display determination and not weakness. They should not make any concessions to Iran."
First Published: Tuesday, May 22, 2012, 13:57