UN atomic agency’s deputy chief to visit Iran amid inspection access tussle

European source says main aim of Massimo Aparo’s trip will be to ensure the IAEA can still monitor the centrifuge cascades at Natanz

IAEA Deputy Director General Massimo Aparo in Seoul, South Korea, November 2018. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, Pool)
IAEA Deputy Director General Massimo Aparo in Seoul, South Korea, November 2018. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, Pool)

VIENNA, Austria — The deputy director general of the UN’s nuclear watchdog will travel to Iran next week, sources said Saturday, against a backdrop of tension over curbs on the agency’s inspections there.

Iran’s ambassador to the UN in Vienna, Kazem Gharibabadi, announced the visit on Twitter, adding that “the purpose of the visit is in line with routine safeguards activities in the context of the CSA,” referring to one of the agreements under which the IAEA conducts its inspections.

“We are in continuous contact,” he added, but there were no pre-planned talks in Tehran.

A European diplomatic source confirmed the visit and said it was principally going to be a visit to the Natanz enrichment facility “to check that inspectors have access to the cascades” of centrifuges used for uranium enrichment.

Iran had limited IAEA access to the site after an explosion on April 11, but access should be “fully” reestablished in the next few days, said the same source.

Iran said the explosion had been a sabotage attempt by Israel.

The Natanz uranium enrichment facility buildings are pictured some 200 miles (322 km) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, on March 30, 2005. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

Asked by AFP to confirm the trip, an IAEA spokesman said: “As part of the Agency’s implementation of its safeguards activities in Iran, Deputy Director General Aparo regularly travels to Iran.”

A delicate time

Massimo Aparo’s visit will come at a delicate time after a temporary agreement covering inspections at Iranian nuclear facilities expired last week.

In late February, Iran limited the IAEA’s access to nuclear sites it has been monitoring as part of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

A three-month agreement reached on February 21 allowed some inspections to continue and that was extended by another month in May.

Under that deal, Iran pledged to keep recordings “of some activities and monitoring equipment” and hand them over to the IAEA as and when US sanctions are lifted.

On Tuesday, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei said Iran was “examining” whether to extend the temporary agreement.

Illustrative: An unidentified International Atomic Energy Agency inspector cuts the connections between the twin cascades for 20 percent uranium enrichment at the Natanz facility, some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, January 20, 2014. (AP/IRNA, Kazem Ghane)

The issue is weighing on the talks, which have been taking place in Vienna with the goal of reviving the 2015 deal.

Diplomats ended the last round of negotiations with Enrique Mora, the EU diplomat chairing the talks, saying “we are closer to a deal.” But a date for reconvening has not been set.

The 2015 accord ensured some relief from UN and Western sanctions on Iran in exchange for strict curbs on its nuclear program.

But the deal has been unravelling ever since former US president Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran.

Tehran retaliated by disregarding most of the limits set down in the deal on its nuclear program.

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