Israeli officials voiced skepticism on Tuesday about the International Atomic Energy Agency's position that the IAEA and Iran are expected to agree on international supervision of Tehran's nuclear program.
IAEA chief Yukiya Amano, however, acknowledged that "some differences" remained. He was speaking to reporters at Vienna airport on his return from the Iranian capital.
A senior Israeli official had major doubts that such an agreement would be signed, and if it is, he doubted that it would be implemented.
Talks between six major powers and Iran over the Islamic Republic's nuclear program resume on Wednesday in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.
In recent days the media have reported on a compromise formula between the Iranians and the six powers - Germany and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China.
Under the compromise, the Iranians would be allowed to continue uranium enrichment for civilian purposes, while permitting international oversight. Still, an Iranian television station's website reported yesterday that two batches of locally-produced fuel plates had been transferred to a research reactor in Tehran.
It's not clear if the report is reliable or an attempt to give the appearance of technological advances on the eve of the Baghdad summit. In any case, the website's report appears likely to complicate any agreement on transferring enriched Iranian uranium abroad in exchange for providing Iran with nuclear fuel from abroad.
The deal in the works would not let Iran produce its own nuclear fuel. In return for an Iranian commitment to stop enriching uranium at high levels - the levels needed to produce nuclear weapons - the West would provide Iran with nuclear fuel.
The transfer of enriched uranium beyond Iran's borders would prevent Tehran from continuing enrichment activity to weapons-grade levels. Iran has enriched uranium to 3.5 percent and 20 percent.
The major powers will apparently propose that Iran cease enrichment to 20 percent but that it be allowed to continue the lower-level enrichment under international oversight. Ninety-percent enrichment is considered weapons grade, while 20 percent is enough to produce crude nuclear weapons.
The expectation in Israel is that the powers will seek an interim agreement providing for suspension of 20 percent enrichment activity in return for concessions on international sanctions against Tehran. The Iranian news agency yesterday reported a split between Russia and the other five powers over the compromise deal.
"Iran has proven over the years its lack of credibility, its dishonesty - telling the truth is not its strong side - and therefore we have to be suspicious of them all the time and examine the agreement that is being formulated," Home Front Defense Minister Matan Vilnai told Israel Radio.
Asked whether last-resort air strikes on Iran were still conceivable with apparent headway being made on the diplomatic track, Vilnai replied: "One shouldn't get confused for even a moment - everything is on the table."
A senior Israel official said a distinction should be made between the IAEA chief's talks in Iran and the meeting Wednesday in Baghdad. He noted that the talks in Iran focused on supervising Iran's nuclear facilities.
"That's not enough," the official said. "The Iranian program is continuing and must be stopped. This finds expression first of all through a halt to all uranium enrichment, both at 20 percent and 3.5 percent."
But a Western diplomat involved in the Baghdad talks told Haaretz that for the first time it's clear that the Iranians are willing to discuss core issues, including a deal on uranium enrichment.
For four years, Iran has stonewalled IAEA requests to examine sites - especially the Parchin site southeast of Tehran. The IAEA has sought to interview senior nuclear scientists and peruse documents to verify Western intelligence reports about Iranian research and experiments pertinent to manufacturing nuclear explosives.
Western diplomats accredited to the IAEA said that whether concerns about Iran's nuclear intentions would be allayed by the deal would depend on how the agreement was applied on the ground.
"There is skepticism until this is signed and then, once it is signed, there will be skepticism until it is implemented," an official from one Western power in Vienna told Reuters.
Amano acknowledged that "some differences" remained before the deal he discussed on his first visit to Tehran could be sealed, although chief Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili had assured him these would not thwart agreement.
According to Amano, "The decision was made to conclude and sign the agreement .... At this stage, I can say it will be signed quite soon."
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