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Vienna (AFP) Nov 21, 2012
The UN atomic agency on Wednesday showed member states new satellite imagery of suspected clean-up operations at Iran's Parchin military base, diplomats said.
The images showed considerable amounts of earth being brought into the site and fences being removed, envoys at the International Atomic Energy Agency briefing said.
"We are wondering whether they are intending to bring down the buildings, the facilities," one senior Western envoy said on condition of anonymity.
The IAEA said in a major report a year ago that it had "overall, credible" evidence that Iran conducted research work "relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device" before 2003 and possibly since at Parchin and at other sites.
The Vienna-based agency visited Parchin near Tehran in 2005, finding nothing, but says it wants to go back after further evidence came to light.
Iran denies having conducted nuclear weapons research, and says that it is not obliged to grant the IAEA access to Parchin because it is not a nuclear site.
Western countries have accused Iran of removing evidence at Parchin, and the IAEA says in regular reports on Iran that work spotted there by satellite will seriously undermine any verification work.
The Vienna-based IAEA has focused on Parchin because its information about activities at the site is not based on intelligence provided by other countries, unlike in the case of other sites -- intelligence that it refuses to share with Iran.
In its latest report on Friday, the agency detailed "extensive activities" at Parchin that began in January 2012 -- following seven years of "virtually no activity" -- near a "large explosives containment vessel" identified at Parchin in March 2011.
These activities included the "run-off of large amounts of water from the containment building over a prolonged period", the removal of external pipework from the building and the "razing and removing" of five other buildings, the IAEA report said.
The images also showed the "shrouding" of the containment vessel and another structure in pink tarpaulin, as well as the "scraping and removal of considerable quantities of earth" over an area of 25 hectares (62 acres).
Access to the site, as well as to other locations and people involved in Iran's nuclear programme -- which Tehran says is peaceful -- is set to figure in talks in the Iranian capital with the IAEA on December 13.
Parallel diplomatic efforts focused more on Iran's current activities, most notably uranium enrichment, are meanwhile gathering pace, with a meeting in Brussels on Wednesday of six world powers ahead of an expected new meeting with Iran in early 2013 or possibly sooner.
A statement afterwards said that the powers wanted to resume talks "as soon as possible" and that "necessary contact" with Tehran would be made "in the coming days."
World powers hope to resume Iran talks 'as soon as possible'
The office of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said after talks between senior officials of the so-called P5+1 nations -- Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States, and Germany -- that the group was "committed to having another round of talks with Iran as soon as possible."
The talks hosted by Ashton were the first on the issue since delays brought on by the US election that saw President Barack Obama returned to office.
"The meeting was part of the ongoing coordination effort to move the process forward to address the international community's concerns about the Iranian nuclear programme," the statement from Ashton's office said.
It said that the six powers "remain united in their efforts to seek a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue" and that "necessary contact" with Tehran would be made "in the coming days."
Political directors from the P5+1 group last met to discuss Iran's nuclear programme in New York in September.
But the last high-level talks attended by Iran, which all but failed, were held in Moscow in June, with Tehran rejecting P5+1 calls for it to scale back its nuclear programme which the West suspect are a cover for efforts to build an atomic bomb.
A senior Western envoy this week told AFP that "we want to try to give Iran incentives to meet its obligations, but Iran will also have to take steps as well. We will see what they are willing to do."
In high-level talks last May in Baghdad the P5+1 made an offer to Iran, calling on it to suspend some activities, close its most controversial nuclear facility and ship fissile material abroad.
Iran rejected the proposals in June when the six powers stopped short of offering swift and significant relief from sanctions that have started to hit the Iranian economy hard in recent months.
Ashton has been chairing talks with Tehran as part of the international community's "twin-track" approach to ensure Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon -- tightening the economic noose through increasingly severe sanctions in hopes of bringing Tehran to the negotiating table.
Israel, the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear weapons state, has refused to rule out a military strike on Iran to stop it from also getting the bomb.
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