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U.N. agency gets a clearer window on Iran's nuclear activity

With an international nuclear deal with Iran apparently near completion, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog agency said Friday it has made progress in its examination of Tehran’s past nuclear activity, but hasn’t fully resolved the issue.

Yukia Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said in a statement following a visit to Tehran on Thursday that the IAEA and Iran “have a better understanding on some ways forward, though more work will be needed.”

He said he and Iranian officials had also discussed how the IAEA will monitor Iran’s nuclear activities under the proposed deal. He didn’t comment on whether the two sides have made progress in trying to sort out how much latitude IAEA inspectors will have in monitoring Iran’s nuclear activity.

A senior Iranian official put a more positive interpretation on the meeting.

Abbas Araqchi, a deputy prime minister, said the meeting was “positive and successful,” and he asserted that Tehran is “ready to settle” the controversial issue of Iran’s alleged past research into nuclear weapons, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Iran’s past nuclear activities, and particularly suspected work on military applications, have been a major obstacle in efforts to settle the 13-year-old conflict between Tehran and world powers.

Iranian officials have denied that the country has worked on nuclear weapons. They have declined to answer many of the IAEA’s questions.

The six world powers -- the United States, France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China -- have proposed a list of steps Iran should take to clear up the dispute. But diplomats have signaled they don’t plan to let unanswered questions about the so-called “possible military dimensions” hold up the broader agreement.

Iran has been sending mixed signals on how far it will allow the U.N. to pursue its investigations. Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has insisted that inspectors won’t be allowed to interview Iranian nuclear scientists or visit military sites. But at other times he and other officials have appeared more open to allowing limited access.

Iranian officials are also eager to show that they are cooperating with the IAEA, and negotiating in good faith for a nuclear deal.

The six countries and Iran are seeking to complete the deal by Tuesday, their latest self-imposed deadline. Officials say that despite progress, several issues remain and it isn’t certain that they will all be solved within the next few days.

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