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IAEA, Iran signal no compromise on impasse over undeclared nuclear sites

Speaking at nuclear watchdog’s annual conference, Grossi tells Iran that probe ‘not going to go away’; Tehran accuses Israel of planting evidence

Mohammad Eslami, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), speaks at the 66th General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria, September 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Theresa Wey)
Mohammad Eslami, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), speaks at the 66th General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria, September 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Theresa Wey)

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Grossi told Iran on Monday that his agency would not halt a probe into traces of uranium found at undeclared nuclear sites, signaling that the issue would continue to block efforts between world powers and Iran to reenter the nuclear deal, Bloomberg reported.

Speaking at the IAEA’s annual conference in Vienna that started Monday, 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.”

Iran has been demanding the IAEA end the probe before agreeing to reenter the deal.

Iran’s atomic energy agency chief Mohammad Eslami also signaled Iran was unwilling to compromise on the issue, saying the investigation relied on “false, baseless information.”

Eslami 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 International Atomic Energy Agency’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.”

Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks at the 66th General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria, September 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Theresa Wey)

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

It has been pressing for answers on the presence of nuclear material at three undeclared sites and the issue led to a resolution that criticized Iran being passed at a June meeting of the IAEA’s board of governors.

The three sites represent a key sticking point in negotiations to restore a tattered 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

Those negotiations began in Vienna in April 2021 but have repeatedly stalled.

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.

“I hope that my talks will put an end… to the false accusations about certain [nuclear] sites stemming from political pressure and psychological operations exerted against Iran,” Eslami said Saturday before departing to Vienna.

In a recent speech at the UN General Assembly, Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi reiterated his country’s long-held insistence that it is not seeking a nuclear weapon.

A satellite image from Planet Labs Inc. that has been annotated by experts at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Middlebury Institute of International Studies shows a damaged building after a fire and explosion at Iran’s Natanz nuclear site, on July 3, 2020. (Planet Labs Inc., James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Middlebury Institute of International Studies via AP)

Israel has long opposed a revival of the 2015 accord, which has been moribund since then-US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018 and reimposed biting sanctions on Tehran. The administration claimed at the time that it would negotiate a better deal with Iran, but that effort never advanced.

Earlier this month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said prospects for a revived agreement in the near future were not looking good.

“Iran seems either unwilling or unable to do what’s necessary to reach an agreement and they continue to try to introduce extraneous issues to the negotiations that make an agreement less likely,” Blinken said at the time.

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