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'Without deal', UN team returns from Iran

IAEA inspector, Herman Nackaerts talks with journalists as he leaves for Iran on January 15, 2013
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Safeguards Herman Nackaerts talks with journalists as he leaves for Iran on January 15, 2013. The chief UN nuclear inspector was due back from Iran Friday with

The chief UN nuclear inspector was due back from Iran Friday without a hoped-for deal on investigating its nuclear programme, dampening hopes of progress in renewed talks between Tehran and world powers.

Instead all Herman Nackaerts of the International Atomic Energy Agency's team was expected to return to Vienna with was an agreement to meet in Tehran again on February 12, Iranian state TV reported.

Diplomats said that the IAEA and Iran still had "differences".

The IAEA conducts regular inspections of Iran's declared nuclear facilities but it also wants access to what it believes are sites where undeclared activities aimed at developing nuclear weapons took place until 2003, and possibly since.

Iran denies working or ever having worked on the bomb and says the IAEA's information is based on faulty foreign intelligence -- material that it has not been shown.

Nackaerts had said in December after an earlier visit to Tehran that he had expected, after a year of trying, to sign this week a "structured approach" deal that would see Iran answer the allegations against it.

It was unclear what went wrong but in the past Iran has insisted that the agreement include clauses that could infringe on the IAEA's ability to conduct proper inspections.

This included for example the IAEA agreeing to "close" an issue for good once it had been covered, even if new information came to light, or the agency being able to inspect a site or a document only once, diplomats said.

"It's disappointing, but not all that surprising, that Iran has yet again failed to follow through on earlier indications of flexibility," said Mark Fitzpatrick from the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The talks with the IAEA came ahead of a new meeting between Iran and the P5+1 powers -- the US, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany.

The meeting was expected to be held in January but is taking longer than envisaged to arrange, either because Iran was waiting until after the IAEA talks or because Tehran and the six powers are having problems agreeing an agenda.

This parallel effort is focused more on Iran's current activities, in particular uranium enrichment, a process that can be used for peaceful purposes but also for creating the core of a nuclear bomb.

At their last meeting, held in Moscow in June, Tehran rejected P5+1 calls for it to scale back its nuclear enrichment activities, while asking for substantial sanctions relief.

Iran's economy is struggling to cope with punitive measures adopted by the US and the EU targeting its vital oil income and access to global financial systems.

"I believe some of the actors in Tehran really do want to strike a deal with the IAEA as a prelude to the more sensitive talks with the P5+1," Fitzpatrick told AFP.

"But getting the political forces in Tehran in alignment on what might look like a compromise is proving to be too difficult. Uncompromising hardliners remain in command."

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