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Lack of contact from Iran’s government ‘astonishing’: UN nuclear watchdog

As diplomats prepare for return to talks in Vienna, head of IAEA says Tehran failing to move forward on ‘long list’ of issues that must be resolved

Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Mariano Grossi, from Argentina, addresses the media during a news conference regarding the agency's monitoring of Iran's nuclear energy program at the International Center in Vienna, Austria,  on June 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner)
Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Mariano Grossi, from Argentina, addresses the media during a news conference regarding the agency's monitoring of Iran's nuclear energy program at the International Center in Vienna, Austria, on June 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner)

VIENNA, Austria — The head of the UN nuclear watchdog said Friday it was “astonishing” that he has had no contact with the new Iranian government over several important outstanding issues since it took office.

Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), had been hoping to visit Iran before the next meeting of the IAEA’s Board of Governors starts on November 22 but made clear on Friday that he was disappointed that no invitation had yet been forthcoming.

Grossi’s latest comments come as diplomats prepare for international talks in Vienna to restart later this month on the restoration of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

In parallel with those efforts, the IAEA has been trying to resolve several other issues with Iran, including restrictions on some of its inspections activities imposed earlier this year.

Grossi visited Tehran in September where he clinched a deal over access to surveillance equipment at Iran’s nuclear facilities but had hoped to return soon afterward to have further discussions with the government of ultraconservative President Ebrahim Raisi, who took office in August.

“I have not had any contact with this government… that has been there for more than five months,” Grossi told reporters, adding that the only exceptions had been “technical conversations” with Iran’s new atomic energy chief Mohamed Eslami.

“This is astonishing and I am saying it openly because I’m saying it to them,” Grossi said.

“There’s a long list of things we need to discuss,” he said.

Days after Grossi’s September visit to Tehran, the IAEA complained that contrary to the agreement struck there it had been denied “indispensable” access to a centrifuge component manufacturing workshop where it needed to service equipment.

Another long-standing issue between the IAEA and Iran relates to questions the agency has about the previous presence of nuclear material at undeclared sites in the country.

Mohammad Eslami, new head of Iran’s nuclear agency (AEOI) talks on stage at the International Atomic Energy’s (IAEA) General Conference in Vienna, Austria, September 20, 2021. (Lisa Leutner/AP)

The agency has said in numerous reports that Iran’s explanations about the material have not been satisfactory.

Discussions on those issues at the Board of Governors meeting could lead to a resolution critical of Iran.

On November 29, just a week after the start of that meeting, diplomats are due to convene for the talks on the 2015 deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA).

Those talks have been suspended since June.

The JCPOA began disintegrating in 2018, when the United States unilaterally pulled out under President Donald Trump and began imposing crippling sanctions on Iran, including a unilateral ban on its oil exports.

In response, Iran began in 2019 disregarding strict curbs on its nuclear activities under the JCPOA.

Trump’s successor Joe Biden says he hopes to return to the agreement but progress towards reviving the deal has been slow.

Iran wants a lifting of all US sanctions imposed after Trump’s withdrawal. The Biden administration says it will only negotiate measures taken by its predecessor over the nuclear program, not steps imposed over other concerns such as human rights.

Washington insists Tehran must return to full compliance with the limits on its nuclear program it agreed to in 2015, and has warned repeatedly that the window of opportunity for a deal is closing fast.

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