U.N. nuclear chief Yukiya Amano touts Iran inspection deal; Western diplomats skeptical
International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano, left, shakes hands with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in Tehran, Iran, May 21, 2012. / AFP/Getty Images
(CBS/AP) BAGHDAD - Iran made the first move Tuesday in attempts to gain an edge in nuclear talks with the U.S. and other world powers: It agreed in principle to allow U.N. inspectors to restart probes into a military site suspected of harboring tests related to atomic weapons.
The tentative accord - announced as envoys headed to the Iraqi capital for negotiations - is likely to be used by Iran as added leverage to seek concessions from the West on sanctions. But U.S. officials have shown no willingness to shift into bargaining mode so quickly, setting the stage for possible tense moments after talks set for Wednesday resume in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone.
Still, Iran's move raises the pressure on the West for some reciprocal gestures to keep dialogue on track and further highlights Tehran's apparent aims of opening a long give-and-take process over its nuclear ambitions.
CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reports that Western diplomats are skeptical about the deal. They feel that Amano felt a lot of pressure to reach an agreement with Iran and that he came back from Tehran with a lot less than he should have. Not reaching a binding, comprehensive deal fell short of expectations generally.
"This is not a final agreement," one European diplomat told Palmer. "It may be a basic understanding, so it may represent a certain success."
Iran denies it seeks nuclear arms and says its reactors are only for power and medical applications.
While the contents of the agreement are not yet known among diplomats, it is unlikely that the deal will affect European and Western negotiators heading to the table in Baghdad, Palmer reports.
By compromising on the IAEA probe, Iranian negotiators in Baghdad could argue that the onus was now on the other side to show some flexibility and temper its demands. Although Amano's trip and the talks in Baghdad are formally separate, Iran hopes progress with the IAEA can boost its chances Wednesday in pressing the U.S. and Europe to roll back sanctions that have hit Iran's critical oil exports and blacklisted the country from international banking networks.
It was unclear, though, how far the results achieved by Amano would serve that purpose, with him returning without the two sides signing the deal, despite his upbeat comments.
After talks in Tehran between Amano and chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, "the decision was made... to reach agreement" on the mechanics of giving the IAEA access to sites, scientists and documents it seeks to restart its probe," Amano told reporters at Vienna airport after his one-day trip to Tehran.
Amano said differences existed on "some details," without elaborating but added that Jalili had assured him that these "will not be an obstacle to reach agreement." He spoke of "an almost clean text" that will be signed soon, although he could not say when.
Skeptical Western diplomats believe Iran's willingness to open past and present activities to full perusal would only reveal what they suspect and Tehran denies that the Islamic Republic has researched and developed components of a nuclear weapons program. They say that Tehran's readiness to honor any agreement it has signed is the true test of its willingness to cooperate
The United States is among those skeptics. In a statement released soon after Amano's announcement, Robert A. Wood, America's chief delegate to the nuclear agency, said Washington appreciated Amano's efforts but remained "concerned by the urgent obligation for Iran to take concrete steps to cooperate fully with the verification efforts of the IAEA, based on IAEA verification practices."
"We urge Iran to take this opportunity to resolve all outstanding concerns about the nature of its nuclear program," said the statement. "Full and transparent cooperation with the IAEA is the first logical step."
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak also voiced doubts, saying the Iranians are trying to create a "deception of progress" to save off international pressure.
"It looks like the Iranians are trying to reach a technical agreement that will create a deception of progress in talks in order to reduce the pressure ahead of talks tomorrow in Baghdad and postpone harshening of sanctions," Barak said during a discussion at the Defense Ministry, according to a statement from his office.
"Israel believes that a clear bar should be set for Iran that won't leave room for any window or crack for Iran to proceed toward military nuclear capability," Barak said. "It's forbidden to make any concessions to Iran. World powers demands must be clear and unequivocal."
Barak held out the possibility that Iran be allowed to keep a "symbolic amount" of low-enriched uranium for medical or research purposes, but only if it is under "strict" international supervision.
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