- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 22, 2012

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iran made the first move Tuesday in attempts to gain an edge in nuclear talks with the U.S. and other world powers: It agreed in principle to allow U.N. inspectors to restart probes into a military site suspected of harboring tests related to atomic weapons.

The tentative accord — announced as envoys headed to the Iraqi capital for negotiations — is likely to be used by Iran as added leverage to seek concessions from the West on sanctions. But U.S. officials have shown no willingness to shift into bargaining mode so quickly, setting the stage for possible tense moments after talks tentatively set for Wednesday resume in Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone.

Still, Iran’s move raises the pressure on the West for some reciprocal gestures to keep dialogue on track and further highlights Tehran’s apparent aims of opening a long give-and-take process over its nuclear ambitions.

A major breakthrough in the yearslong impasse was not expected in Baghdad, with officials and experts saying both sides will seek to demonstrate enough progress to keep the process moving forward.

That could cool down worries in international markets over possible military action, but reinforce the suspicions of Israeli leaders who claim Iran seeks only to buy time to keep up its production of nuclear fuel.

Iran’s envoys, meanwhile, promoted the Baghdad round as an opportunity to set aside past obstacles.

“That is the basis for the beginning of a new cooperation,” said Saeed Jalili, the top Iranian nuclear negotiator, who arrived in Baghdad late Monday. “We hope that the talks in Baghdad will be a kind of dialogue that will give shape to such cooperation.”

Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, Hasan Danaeifar, said the Baghdad talks could be historic.

“Should the talks set a start for a serious, constructive settlement of the issues, it could be a historic meeting for all sides,” the official IRNA news agency quoted him as saying.

A senior Western diplomat in Baghdad said sanctions on Iran’s oil exports, set to take effect July 1, likely pushed Tehran to the bargaining table.

“I don’t think the Iranians are coming to these talks because they suddenly changed their minds about anything. They are coming to these talks because sanctions are beginning to bite,” the diplomat said in an interview this week with The Associated Press. He spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the negotiations candidly.

In Iranian terms, that means offering some possible accommodations — such as opening to greater U.N. inspections — but sticking to its right to enrich uranium as a signatory of U.N. nuclear treaties. The Baghdad talks, involving the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany, could offer a test of how much the U.S. and allies are willing to bend from demands for Iran to halt to all enrichment and instead concentrate on just stopping the highest-grade production.

The West and others fear the 20 percent-level enrichment can be turned quickly into weapons-grade of over 90 percent.

Iran has repeatedly denied it seeks nuclear arms and says its reactors are only for power and medical research.

On Tuesday, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported that Iranian scientists had inserted a domestically made fuel rod, which contains pellets of 20 percent enriched uranium, into the core of a research nuclear reactor in Tehran.

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