The United Nations' atomic watchdog agency said it was close to a deal giving its inspectors access to some of Iran's disputed nuclear sites, providing a dose of optimism as diplomats prepared for new talks to overcome their standoff with the Islamic Republic.
Yukiya Amano, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he expected to sign a deal with Iran "quite soon."
He spoke to reporters at IAEA headquarters in Vienna after returning from Tehran -- the first time Iranian officials had been willing to meet with him in their capital since he became head of the agency in 2009.
Amano, who has pressed hard for Iran to provide better access to its nuclear sites and personnel, told reporters he considered the deal to be an important development.
The news came as diplomats from the U.N., the United States and five other major powers prepared to meet today in Baghdad with Iranian officials for negotiations over Iran's nuclear ambitions. Taken together, the developments appeared to ease tensions.
For months, talk of war has dominated discussions about Iran. The Tehran government insists its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful purposes, but officials in the U.S., Israel and some European countries suspect Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon. Israeli officials have strongly suggested they might bomb Iranian nuclear sites if they believe the Iranian effort has gone too far.