PARIS — The International Atomic Energy Agency said Monday that Iran had agreed to resolve all outstanding issues with the agency and would permit “managed access” by international inspectors to two key nuclear facilities that have not been regularly viewed.
But the promise of wider scrutiny did not extend to one of the most contentious locations: the Parchin military site southwest of Tehran.
Inspectors from the agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, have been trying for months to see selected areas of the Parchin site, where they suspect that Iran at one time tested triggering devices for nuclear weapons.
“This is an important step forward to start with, but much more needs to be done,” Yukiya Amano, the director general of the agency, told reporters in Tehran, apparently reflecting a degree of caution.
The agreement followed talks between Iran and six world powers over the nation’s nuclear program. Those talks ended Saturday without reaching an agreement that would have eased sanctions on Iran in exchange for verifiable assurances that it would not pursue the construction of a nuclear weapon.
Western diplomats said Iranian negotiators balked at a proposed agreement and did not give enough concrete assurances of peaceful intentions.
Coming so soon after those talks, the agreement with the agency Monday appeared to represent an effort by Iran to show that it remained committed to reaching an accommodation with the West and wanted to demonstrate that it was willing to take steps it had not taken in the past.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said at a news conference in the United Arab Emirates that the Obama administration was not in a “race” to strike a deal.
The UN agreement, the first step in at least five years toward resolving outstanding issues on Iran’s program, was signed by Amano and Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization. Among its specific provisions is “managed access” to the Gachin mine in Bandar Abbas and the heavy-water production plant being built at Arak.
In the past, the agency has questioned whether the Gachin mine, which produces yellowcake uranium for conversion to nuclear fuel, is linked to Iran’s military.
The heavy-water plant at Arak could produce plutonium, which can be used in a weapon, and a key concern is that once the plant is operational, it would be all but impossible to destroy it without running the risk of spreading deadly plutonium.
Western officials noted that the agreement gave the atomic agency access to the heavy-production plant but not the nuclear reactor, which is under construction there.
The agreement would also include provisions for more complete information about the scope and longer-term plans for additional uranium enrichment facilities, as well as answers to “all present and past issues,” the agency said. The “past issues” include the question of whether Iran has previously pursued a weaponization program.
The country’s longstanding reluctance to answer questions from the nuclear watchdog and allow more comprehensive inspections has worried the West and deepened suspicions about Iran’s sincerity.
The agency is the only outside entity that is allowed to enter Iranian facilities, take samples, and report back to the world on what Iran is doing. Its access has been limited, and no inspections have been permitted at some facilities.
The lack of in-depth information and inspections of the heavy-water plant has been a particular worry to the West. French officials went further and indicated that they wanted construction halted altogether and that Iran’s failure to agree to this was one reason the French were reluctant to endorse a broader deal with Iran this past weekend.
For his part, Salehi said Monday that his government had reached agreement on a “road map” with the nuclear agency, according to the state-run broadcaster Press TV.
“This joint statement outlines a road map that clarifies bilateral cooperation on the outstanding issues,” Salehi was quoted as saying.
The agreement Monday comprised a four-paragraph statement and six bullet points in an annex of issues to be tackled within the next three months.