January 13, 2014 - 22:13 AMT
PanARMENIAN.Net - The UN nuclear watchdog's increased access in Iran to monitor a landmark agreement with world powers still falls short of what it says it needs to investigate suspicions that Tehran may have worked on designing an atomic bomb, according to Reuters.
It is also a far cry from the wide-ranging inspection powers the International Atomic Energy Agency had in Iraq in the 1990s to help unearth and dismantle Saddam Hussein's clandestine nuclear program after the first Gulf war.
Nevertheless, the IAEA will see its role in Iran expand significantly under the Nov 24 interim accord between the country and the six major powers, the implementation of which will start next Monday, Jan 20.
Since the deal is only preliminary, the IAEA and its investigation may gain more prominence in later talks on a final settlement of the decade-old dispute over Iran's nuclear program, but it remains to be seen how far it will go.
"This is just an appetizer, I guess ... a starter," former chief UN nuclear inspector Herman Nackaerts said.
The deal struck in Geneva seven weeks ago focuses on capping Iran's output of fissile material, which can be used for atomic arms if refined further, and not on any research it may have undertaken in how to make a bomb out of it.
Western diplomats and nuclear experts say the IAEA also needs to carry out its long-stalled inquiry into alleged tests and other activity by Iran that could be used for nuclear arms development, partly to make sure that any such work has ceased.
The IAEA is pursuing separate talks with Iran in an attempt to restart its probe, but progress may depend on the broader diplomacy between Tehran and the powers.
Nackaerts, who retired as IAEA deputy director general last year, said the Geneva agreement was a good first step. But, he told Reuters, "more has to come to be able to resolve all the outstanding issues, that is quite clear."
To check that Iran meets its side of the six-month accord to curb sensitive nuclear activity in return for some sanctions easing, IAEA experts will go daily to Iran's uranium enrichment sites at Natanz and Fordow, up from about once a week now.
They will also inspect plants where Iran is manufacturing the specialized equipment, centrifuges, used to enrich uranium, as well as uranium mines and mills.
However, the agreement between Iran and the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia - meant to buy time for talks on a final settlement of the decade-old nuclear dispute - only vaguely refers to the IAEA's investigation.
It does not, for example, say anything about the UN agency's repeated requests to visit the Parchin military base.
The IAEA suspects that Iran has carried out explosives tests relevant for nuclear bomb development at the facility southeast of Tehran, possibly a decade ago. Iran denies this and has so far refused to open it up for the inspectors.
The watchdog also wants to see other locations, interview officials and study relevant documents for its inquiry into what it calls the "possible military dimensions" to Iran's nuclear program, known under the acronym PMD.
The Vienna-based IAEA has been investigating accusations for several years that Iran may have coordinated efforts to process uranium, test explosives and revamp a missile cone in a way suitable for a nuclear warhead.
Iran says such claims are baseless and forged.