Iran agreed Sunday to provide additional information sought by the UN nuclear agency in its long-stalled probe of suspicions that Tehran may have worked on nuclear weapons, reports The Associated Press (AP).
The announcement came just hours after Iran denied International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors access to the Parchin military base, which has long been suspected as a site where nuclear bomb triggering devices are being tested.
According to AP, the IAEA announced that Tehran was ready to "provide information and explanations" for experiments in a type of detonator that the agency says could be used to trigger a nuclear explosion appeared to be the latest indication that Iran's new political leadership is seeking to ease tensions over its nuclear program.
The agency mentioned its concerns about detonator development three years ago as part of a list of activities it said could indicate that Tehran had secretly worked on nuclear weapons. The technology had "limited civilian and conventional military applications," it said back then, adding: "given their possible application in a nuclear explosive device ... Iran development of such detonators and equipment is a matter of concern."
David Albright, whose Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) is often consulted by the U.S. government on proliferation issues, said the concession by Iran could "crack open the door" and lead to a resolution of the allegations that it worked clandestinely on atomic arms.
ISIS is the institute which in the past assessed, based on satellite imagery, that Iran was carrying activities at Parchin in order to clean-up evidence of its nuclear testing.
The detonator issue was not on top of the list of the 2011 IAEA report of possible nuclear weapons concerns, with the agency mentioning other suspected activities that it said appeared to have had no civilian applications, noted AP.
As the two sides met over the weekend in Tehran, diplomats told AP that Iran now was ready to address agency questions about its suspected nuclear weapons work after years of dismissing the issue as based on fabricated U.S. and Israeli evidence.
They also said that the process would get underway only slowly. The fact that the Iranians were ready to engage on the detonator issue first reflected caution by both sides after more than six years of stalemate on the probe, with the agency focused on a step-by-step approach, starting with less sensitive issues and progressing to the arms-related queries.
The process began after the two sides reached an agreement three months ago that gave the agency access to several previously off-limit sites not directly linked to any suspected weapons activities.
An IAEA statement Sunday said Iran had complied with the first steps of that deal and both sides on the weekend signed off on an additional "seven practical measures," according to AP.
Beyond the detonator experiments, they included Iranian agreement to provide "mutually agreed relevant information" on a site where Tehran experimented with laser uranium enrichment as well as a visit to the site where such work took place.
The announcement comes weeks after an interim deal struck between Iran and the West went into effect.
At the same time, even after the interim deal was reached, Iran has consistently said that it will not stop its nuclear program, which it claims is for peaceful purposes.
Several weeks ago, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denied that his country had agreed to dismantle its centrifuges as part of the nuclear agreement.
Zarif insisted that the Obama administration was mischaracterizing the concessions by Iran in the six-month nuclear deal, saying that "we did not agree to dismantle anything."
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani recently declared that his country will not dismantle its nuclear facilities.