The major powers seeking to negotiate an end to Iran’s suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons are expected to issue a statement on Friday laying out what Tehran would need to do return to talks, a diplomat said.
The group, which includes Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, is expected to provide details of an offer it made to Iran in October in an effort to bring Iranians back to the negotiating table.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Friday that time was running out to avoid a military intervention in Iran and he appealed to China and Russia to support new sanctions to force Tehran to negotiate over its uranium enrichment program.
Western nations suspect that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons but Tehran says its nuclear program is for civilian energy purposes.
Western officials say Iran has been asking for talks with major powers “without conditions” as a stalling tactic while refusing to put its nuclear program on the table.
Friday’s expected statement follows pleas by Iran’s Arab neighbors for major powers to scale back an intensifying confrontation with Tehran that has raised fears of regional conflict.
Meanwhile, the head of the U.N. atomic agency Yukiya Amano said Iran’s nuclear program will be his main focus this year, according to remarks released Friday ahead of an IAEA visit to Tehran in late January.
“My key priority in 2012 will be to try to make progress towards restoring international confidence in the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program,” Amano told an International Atomic Energy Agency new year's reception Thursday.
“This is the most important of the major safeguards issues on our agenda. A senior team from the Agency, led by Deputy Director General for Safeguards Herman Nackaerts, will visit Iran towards the end of this month.
“I am fully committed to working constructively with Iran and I trust that Iran will approach our forthcoming discussions in an equally constructive spirit.”
Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, was quoted by the Fars news agency on Tuesday as saying that the visit by Nackaerts would last from January 29-31.
Nackaerts, who is Belgian, will be accompanied by the agency’s number two, Rafael Grossi, an Argentine, as well as the Vienna-based agency's senior legal official Peri Lynne Johnson, a U.S. citizen, according to diplomats.
In November an IAEA report, rejected as “baseless” by Iran, said the agency was able to build an overall impression that Tehran “carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.”
Since the report, Western countries have sought to increase pressure on Iran, with Washington and Brussels taking aim at Iran's oil industry and central bank, while pressing Japan, China and others to join them.
Iran denies seeking atomic weapons, saying its program is peaceful, but Western countries strongly suspect otherwise and the UN Security Council has slapped four rounds of sanctions on the Islamic republic.