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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

IAEA Says Iran Is Still Resistant

VIENNA -- The chief of the UN nuclear watchdog said Monday that Iran was still resisting investigation into its atomic program but that he welcomed a big-power offer of incentives to Tehran to resolve the crisis.

Iran earlier ruled out any compromise on its right to enrich uranium, without rejecting outright the package offered by six major nations on condition it halts its work on nuclear fuel.

Tehran restated its position just before the International Atomic Energy Agency's governing board began meetings in Vienna.

"It [is] clear that the agency has not made much progress in resolving outstanding verification issues," IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei said in a keynote speech to the board.

"I remain convinced that the way forward lies through dialogue and mutual accommodation," he said.

Diplomats said the IAEA would debate Iran but pass no resolutions, to avoid any diplomatic upset while Tehran considers its response to the big-power initiative.

"Iran's view on the nuclear fuel cycle has been announced ... we have obtained this technology, it is our obvious right and we do not negotiate over our obvious nuclear rights," Iranian government spokesman Gholamhossein Elham said in Tehran.

U.S. President George W. Bush has said Iran has weeks, not months, to decide whether to accept the deal.

"The G8 foreign ministers' meeting at the end of the month will obviously be a time to see where we stand with Iran," a U.S. State Department official said Monday.

Ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized nations meet on June 29-30 ahead of the G8 summit, which is to take place in St. Petersburg on July 15-17.

The official, who asked not to be named, said the IAEA board meeting was not a diplomatic deadline for the negotiations.

The nuclear dispute intensified in February when the IAEA referred Tehran to the UN Security Council over its history of hiding atomic research and obstructing IAEA investigations.

Last week the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China offered Iran incentives to stop making nuclear fuel. Tehran has repeatedly vowed to pursue such work.

Iran could face UN sanctions if it refuses to halt its enrichment program, which it says is intended only to produce fuel for nuclear power plants, not for atomic bombs.

The U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, speaking just before the 35-nation board convened, said the ball was in Iran's court and the next decision had to emerge from Tehran, not Vienna.

"The United States and other members of the IAEA board hope this will be a decision to refrain from further enrichment-related and reprocessing activities including research and development, and to take advantage of the enormous diplomatic opportunities that lie in front of the Islamic Republic," Gregory Schulte told a news briefing. Western diplomats say the deal includes a light-water reactor and an atomic fuel-storage facility, as well as a U.S. offer to join the European Union's direct talks with Iran.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry has said Tehran will send its own counter-proposals to the international incentive package.

Western leaders have in the past ruled out allowing Iran any domestic nuclear fuel program. But the new package allows for one after an open-ended halt to enrichment work, probably lasting years, and under full IAEA surveillance.

"No one is expecting fireworks. The priority is not to distract from the package on the table for Iran -- the best chance, maybe the last one, for a non-confrontational solution," said an IAEA diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.