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The advance would be another step in achieving proficiency in the entire nuclear fuel cycle. Iran said in January that it had produced the first nuclear fuel rod, and that it had to find a way to make them because Western sanctions prohibit their purchase from foreign markets.

Western claims about a clandestine atomic weapons program have often cited Iran’s Parchin military facility, where the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency believes Iran in 2003 ran explosive tests needed to set off a nuclear charge. Iran describes Parchin as a conventional military site.

The agency’s chief, Yukiya Amano, returned to Vienna on Tuesday from a one-day trip to Tehran and said an agreement is within reach to give inspectors “access to sites, scientists and documents it seeks to restart its probe.”

He noted that some differences still exist but claimed they “will not be an obstacle to reach agreement.” He gave no details on the unsettled points or when the pact could be signed.

Amano’s remarks brought a measured response from Washington and allies.

Robert A. Wood, the chief U.S. delegate to the nuclear agency, said Amano’s efforts were appreciated but Washington remains “concerned by the urgent obligation for Iran to take concrete steps to cooperate fully with the verification efforts of the IAEA, based on IAEA verification practices.”

“We urge Iran to take this opportunity to resolve all outstanding concerns about the nature of its nuclear program,” Wood said in a statement. “Full and transparent cooperation with the IAEA is the first logical step.”

In Germany, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said the apparent inspection pact was an “overdue step in the right direction.”

But he added: “The aim is to make progress not just atmospherically but also on substance.”

Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, dismissed it as a “deception of progress” to save off international pressure.

“It looks like the Iranians are trying to reach a technical agreement that will create a deception of progress in talks in order to reduce the pressure ahead of talks tomorrow in Baghdad and postpone harshening of sanctions,” Barak said, according to a statement from his office.

On Monday, the U.S. Senate backed proposals for further sanctions on Iran, including requiring companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges to disclose any Iran-related business. U.S. and European measures already have targeted Iran’s oil exports — its chief revenue source — and effectively blocked the country from international banking networks.

Even before the meetings begin in Baghdad, expectations were kept in check.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said they will “not produce a miracle.”

“But everybody is looking for some tangible steps on the basis of reciprocity,” Zebari told AP in an interview.

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