IAEA chief to make unusual visit to Iran

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The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Yukiya Amano will make a rare visit to Iran on Sunday, the UN nuclear watchdog agency announced Friday. It will be Amano’s first visit to Iran, and the first by an IAEA chief since Mohamed ElBaradei visited the country in 2009.

“Amano will travel to Tehran this Sunday, 20 May, to discuss issues of mutual interest with high Iranian officials,” the agency said in a brief press announcement. Amano would also meet the top Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili on monday, the agency said.

The visit comes ahead of a second round of Iran nuclear talks due to be held in Baghdad May 23. It also follows an Iran-IAEA meeting last week that both sides described as constructive.

Diplomatic sources said they were only somewhat hopeful ahead of the next round of talks.

“There is reason to be cautiously hopeful, a step down from the usual ‘cautiously optimistic,'” a western diplomat told me Friday. “Talks are progressing and we should have a chance to take another important step, perhaps even reach the end of the beginning of the process.”

In advance of the Baghdad meeting, the P5+1 deputy nuclear negotiator Helga Schmid held a second meeting with her Iranian counterpart, Ali Bagheri, in Geneva Thursday May 17th. The two met previously there to prepare the agenda for the high-stakes Baghdad conference May 6-7, I previously reported.

Amano is due to issue the next IAEA report on Iran next Friday, after the conclusion of the Baghdad talks.

(Photo: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Yukiya Amano attends a board of governors meeting at the United Nations headquarters in Vienna March 5, 2012: Herwig Prammer, Reuters.)