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IAEA chief meets Iranian officials in push for more nuke access

Rafael Mariano Grossi (IAEA Imagebank/WikiCommons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog has met with Iranian officials to press for greater access to nuclear facilities in the Islamic republic ahead of talks next week in Vienna aimed at reviving a 2015 deal between Iran and world powers.

Rafael Grossi, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), on November 23 held talks with Mohammad Eslami, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization, Iran’s civilian nuclear agency.

“Our work has been intense since the morning,” Grossi, who arrived in Tehran on November 22, told a televised joint news conference after talks with Eslami.

“The agency is seeking to continue and deepen the dialogue with the government of Iran…. We agreed to continue our joint work on transparency and this will continue.”

“We are continuing at this point the negotiations with a view to find a common ground,” he said. “We are multiplying our efforts with a view to conclude our exchanges today.”

Eslami said that Tehran was determined to resolve technical issues with the agency without “politicizing the matter.”

In a brief separate statement, the Atomic Energy Organization said that “establishing a clear framework for cooperation between the IAEA and the agency is one of the main topics of discussion.”

The UN in 2008 imposed sanctions on Eslami for “being engaged in, directly associated with, or providing support for Iran’s proliferation sensitive nuclear activities or for the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems.”

Grossi, who was on his third visit to Iran since February, said on Twitter on November 22 that he hoped to “address outstanding questions” with Iranian officials.

Grossi is also set to meet with Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

Addressing reporters ahead of Grossi’s arrival on November 22, Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Tehran hoped that Grossi’s visit “will be as constructive as the previous ones.”

Grossi last visited Tehran in September, when he obtained Iran’s approval for international access to monitoring equipment at Iranian nuclear facilities.

The 2015 deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was intended to curtail Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

The United States withdrew from the deal in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump, and Tehran has since consistently stepped up activity in its nuclear program, including expanding its stockpile of enriched uranium.

Trump’s successor, Joe Biden, has expressed interest in rejoining the pact if Iran returns to full compliance.

However, indirect negotiations between the deal’s signatories that started in April in Vienna were put on hold in June after the Islamic republic elected hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi as president.

On November 19, the IAEA said Tehran had again increased its stockpile of highly enriched uranium, several times above the limit outlined in the 2015 agreement.

Grossi’s visit comes ahead of talks with world powers in Vienna on November 29 — the first since Raisi’s election.

“We will leave for Vienna with a full team and a serious will to lift the sanctions,” Khatibzadeh said. “The other parties should also try to come to Vienna to reach a practical and comprehensive agreement.”

The remaining signatories to the 2015 deal — Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia — will join the talks, while the United States will participate indirectly.

Grossi’s talks in Tehran also come ahead of the IAEA’s 35-member board of governors’ quarterly meeting on November 24. Diplomats said no action is likely to be taken against Iran at the meeting for fear of damaging the talks.