Envoys from the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency opened talks with Iranian officials on Thursday, seeking ways to restart negotiations with world powers and gain access to a site with suspected links to past atomic tests.
The mission by the International Atomic Energy Agency underscores the stalemate atmosphere over Tehran's nuclear program.
Talks with the United States and other nations have been in limbo since June, and IAEA inspectors are still pressing to revisit a military site near Tehran, months after Iran hinted it would give permission for the second visit. Tehran later backtracked and put caveats on the visit.
The West suspects Iran wants to expand its uranium enrichment activities to eventually produce warhead-grade material. Iran says it only seeks reactors for energy generation and cancer treatment, not nuclear weapons.
The seven-member U.N. team, headed by Herman Nackaerts, an IAEA deputy director general, will meet with Iranian nuclear officials during the two-day talks, the official IRNA news agency reported.
The IAEA has demanded since last year to make another inspection visit to the Parchin military site, which the agency says could have been used for experiments related to nuclear weapons in the interim. Iran insists the site is a conventional military base.
Before flying to Tehran, Nackaerts signaled impatience with Iran's refusal to meet IAEA requests for information on its suspicion that Iran had researched and developed components of a nuclear weapons program. In brief comments to reporters at the Vienna airport, he noted that "negotiations for almost one year" have already been conducted on the issue.
The IAEA suspects that Iran has conducted live tests of conventional explosives in Parchin that could be used to detonate a nuclear weapon and cites satellite photos indicating a cleanup of the site. Iran denies it is sanitizing the site, but IAEA chief Yukiya Amano has warned that his agency's chances of a meaningful investigation at Parchin are diminishing the longer the alleged cleanup continues.
Mojtaba Fathi, a political analyst who writes for the pro-reform Bahar daily in Tehran, said Iran may demand that any information from Parchin be kept confidential by the inspectors as a precondition for a possible visit.
Iran in the past accused the agency's inspectors of leaking nuclear information to countries such as Israel and the United States before it appears in official reports.
Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, a professor in politics in Tehran's Allameh University, believed the talks could be an "opening" for the future.
"If the talks are fruitful, a common language can be found for solving other differences" between Iran and the West, said Falahatpisheh.
Iran's nuclear chief Fereidoun Abbasi said his country will approach the talks in an "optimistic" way.
Associated Press Writer George Jahn in Vienna contributed to this report.