The head of the U.N. nuclear agency said Friday that he is uncertain whether Iran will agree to allow his agency to restart an investigation into the Islamic Republic's suspected secret nuclear arms program.
International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano said that the likelihood of an agreement at talks next week "remains unclear."
IAEA officials reported some progress after their previous meeting in December, citing the possibility of resuming its probe early this year following another round of talks Jan. 16.
"Negotiating with Iran is quite a challenge," he said. "A step forward doesn't necessarily lead to another step forward. After making a step forward, there could be two steps backward, or even three steps backward," Amano said. "We don't know if we can resolve the remaining."
Amano, expected to stay on the top job at the agency for four more years, is in Japan for talks with its newly elected Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his government.
Amano said resolving Iran's suspected atomic program is among his top missions in his upcoming second term as IAEA chief.
"I hope to peacefully resolve Iran's suspected atomic program through diplomatic effort," Amano said. "I would like Iran to understand that cooperating with the IAEA is the best thing to do."
Agency officials said last month that experts were expected to be allowed to go to Parchin, a military base southeast of Tehran, and follow up on suspicions it might have been used as part of secret arms-related experiments once the probe is resumed, but Iran has not agreed to a key IAEA request — a visit to a site linked to suspected nuclear weapons research.
Amano in May predicted a breakthrough deal soon, but follow-up talks have since failed to yield significant results.
Iran denies it is developing nuclear weapons, saying its nuclear program is for peaceful power generation. The country has justified a nearly yearlong delay in cooperating with the IAEA's probe by saying that a framework regulating such an investigation must be agreed on first. As talks on an agreement have dragged on, officials have suspected that they may be a delaying tactic.
The IAEA suspects that Iran has conducted live tests of conventional explosives that could be used to detonate a nuclear charge at the sprawling military base. The IAEA has visited Parchin twice — the last time in 2005 when it had no access to satellite imagery and visited buildings other than the one now pinpointed by aerial photos.