TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – The head of the United Nations atomic watchdog met with Iranian officials on Tuesday to push for greater access to the Islamic Republic before diplomatic talks resumed over the tattered nuclear deal of Tehran with the world powers.
Rafael Mariano Grossi of the International Atomic Energy Agency again faces tightrope talks with Iranian officials as his inspectors remain unable to access surveillance footage and face greater challenges to trying to monitor Tehran’s rapidly growing uranium stockpile. Following President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Iran deal, the Islamic Republic is now enriching small amounts of uranium up to 60% purity – its highest level ever and close to quality levels 90% military.
While Iran maintains its program is peaceful, regional rival Israel has repeatedly warned that it will not allow Tehran to build a nuclear weapon and is suspected of launching attacks targeting its program as part of a The broader regional ghost war that has been unfolding in the Middle East in recent years. The United States under President Joe Biden, meanwhile, has said it is ready to return to the deal, but has warned that time is running out.
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All of this increases the risk of a wider confrontation with Iran, which took a harsher turn ahead of talks under new President Ebrahim Raisi, a protégé of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Writing on Twitter on Monday, Grossi said he hoped to “answer outstanding questions” with Iranian officials.
“I hope to establish a fruitful and cooperative direct dialogue channel so that (IAEA) can resume essential verification activities in the country,” Grossi wrote.
Grossi visited the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, the country’s civilian nuclear agency, on Tuesday for his third such visit since February. He spoke with Mohammad Eslami, the new head of the organization. In 2008, the UN sanctioned Eslami for “having engaged, directly associated with or having supported Iranian nuclear activities sensitive to proliferation or for the development of nuclear weapons vectors”.
After their speech, Eslami gave a press conference in which he described the ongoing issues as “technical” and not governed by the “political issues and plots” of the enemies of Iran.
“Some parts have not yet found an answer and some parts have to do with issues that have already been closed in the past,” he said. “They were addressed in the nuclear deal and were closed. Today we agreed to put an end to it.
Eslami did not develop.
Grossi, for his part, called the talks “intense” and was not as final as Islami.
“We are continuing our negotiations at this stage to find common ground,” Grossi said. He was then due to meet Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian.
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Under a confidential agreement called an “additional protocol” with Iran, the IAEA collects and analyzes images from a series of surveillance cameras installed at Iranian nuclear sites. These cameras have helped him monitor Tehran’s program to see if he is sticking to the nuclear deal.
The Iranian parliament outright approved a bill in December 2020 that would suspend part of the inspections of its nuclear facilities by the UN if the European signatories did not grant relief from oil and banking sanctions by February. Since February, the IAEA has not been able to access the images from these cameras.
As part of the agreement, the IAEA also placed approximately 2,000 tamper-evident seals on nuclear material and equipment. These seals were communicated electronically to the inspectors. Automated measuring devices also provided real-time data from the program. The inspectors were also unable to access this data, making the task of monitoring Iran’s enriched uranium stocks even more difficult.
The agency also requested monitoring of activities at a centrifuge parts production site near the northern town of Karaj. The IAEA has not had access to it since June after Iran said a sabotage attack by Israel severely damaged the IAEA facility and camera there.
In a separate report to IAEA member states earlier this month, the agency said Grossi was also concerned that inspectors “are subject to excessively invasive physical searches by security officials in the areas. nuclear facilities in Iran “.
Tuesday’s meeting precedes a larger meeting of IAEA member states. Iran avoided a vote of no confidence on the board with a similar visit from Grossi in September.
Meanwhile, in Israel, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett described Iran’s nuclear program as “at a very advanced stage”, without providing details. Before nuclear talks resumed between world powers and Iran, Bennett said he expected “a disagreement with our closest friends.”
“Anyway, even with the return to an agreement, of course Israel is not part of the agreement. Israel is not bound by this, ”he said at a security conference in Herzliya. “We will maintain our freedom of action.
Associated Press writer Tia Goldenberg in Tel Aviv, Israel, contributed to this report. Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.