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IAEA head meets with Iranian atomic chief amid dispute on undeclared nuclear sites

‘Dialogue has restarted with Iran on clarification of outstanding safeguards issues,’ Rafael Grossi says after vowing UN watchdog won’t close probe opposed by Tehran

Iran's nuclear chief Mohammad Eslami speaks during the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at the agency's headquarters in Vienna, Austria, on September 26, 2022. (Joe Klamar/AFP)
Iran's nuclear chief Mohammad Eslami speaks during the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at the agency's headquarters in Vienna, Austria, on September 26, 2022. (Joe Klamar/AFP)

VIENNA — The chief of the UN’s nuclear watchdog said Monday he had met with the head of Iran’s atomic energy agency, as attempts to revive the country’s nuclear deal stall.

Efforts to salvage a tattered 2015 agreement — which offered an easing of international sanctions in exchange for a drastic limitation of Iran’s nuclear activities — have flailed since then-US president Donald Trump had America withdraw from it in 2018.

The United States reimposed biting sanctions, provoking Tehran into stepping back from its nuclear commitments, greatly increasing its stock of enriched uranium and turning off monitoring cameras operated by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

But after months of friction, the two sides met face-to-face in Vienna.

“Dialogue has restarted with Iran on clarification of outstanding safeguards issues,” Rafael Grossi tweeted Monday.

He said he had met with Mohammad Eslami — Iran’s nuclear chief — on the sidelines of the IAEA’s annual conference, and posted a picture of the two men shaking hands.

The UN watchdog has been pressing Iran to give answers on the presence of nuclear material at three undeclared sites, and this key sticking point led to a resolution that criticized Iran being passed at a June meeting of the IAEA’s board of governors.

Ahead of Monday’s meeting, Grossi told Iran that his agency would not halt the probe into the undeclared sites, signaling that the issue would continue to block efforts between world powers and Iran to reenter the nuclear deal.

Speaking at the IAEA’s annual conference in Vienna, Grossi stated that an ongoing investigation into the source of uranium traces found at several undeclared sites in Iran was “not going to go away,” according to Bloomberg.

Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Grossi speaks during a press conference at the UN Headquarters on September 21, 2022 in New York. (Yuki IWAMURA/AFP)

Eslami also signaled Iran was unwilling to compromise on the issue, saying the investigation relied on “false, baseless information.”

He insisted that a revived nuclear accord should prevent “baseless allegations” from being made against his country and suggested that Israel had planted evidence in the IAEA’s possession in an attempt to fabricate charges against Iran, Bloomberg quoted him as saying.

The public argument indicated that chances of reaching an agreement were slim, although Grossi still held out hope of a positive outcome, saying he was scheduled to meet with Elsami later this week, adding that “we need to find a common solution.”

The flag of Iran waves in front of the International Center building with the headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, in Vienna, Austria, on May 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter, File)

Iran has repeatedly said it wants the IAEA to drop its interest in the three sites — a position that the nuclear watchdog says lacks credibility.

In a speech at the UN General Assembly last Wednesday, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi reiterated his country’s long-held insistence that it is not seeking a nuclear weapon and demanded US guarantees it would abide by any revived nuclear deal.

The UN watchdog said early this month it was “not in a position to provide assurance that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.”

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