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UN chief urges Iran to hold ‘serious dialogue’ on nuclear inspections

Secretary-General Guterres says IAEA nuclear watchdog’s independence is ‘essential’ after Iran demands an end to probes, again stalling negotiations

Luke Tress is an editor and a reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a joint press conference in Islamabad, Pakistan on September 9, 2022. (Ghulam Rasool/AFP)
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks during a joint press conference in Islamabad, Pakistan on September 9, 2022. (Ghulam Rasool/AFP)

UNITED NATIONS — United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday urged Iran to hold a “serious dialogue” about investigations by UN nuclear inspectors, which have in recent weeks become a roadblock in negotiations toward a renewed nuclear deal.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, acts as the UN’s nuclear watchdog. Iran last week demanded the agency close its investigation into several undeclared nuclear sites, a nonstarter for Western powers at the talks.

“I think the IAEA is a very important pillar and I believe that its independence that exists and must be preserved is essential,” Guterres said at a press briefing ahead of the UN General Assembly next week.

“The IAEA cannot be the instrument of parties against other parties,” he said.

“My appeal to the government of Iran, or any other government in the same situation, is to establish a serious dialogue with the IAEA, creating the conditions for effective cooperation that is needed,” he said, adding that he did not believe nuclear inspections were “the most difficult question on the table.”

The 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, gave Iran sanctions relief in return for restricting its nuclear program.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi speaks during a press conference in Tehran on August 29, 2022. (AFP)

In 2018, then-US president Donald Trump pulled the US from the agreement and began reimposing sanctions, spurring Iran to roll back on its commitments.

The Biden administration has sought a return to the deal, and negotiations taking place in Vienna since April 2021 have aimed to revive the agreement by lifting sanctions on Iran again in exchange for Tehran again curbing its nuclear activities.

European mediators last month appeared to make progress in the negotiations as Iran largely agreed to a proposed final text. Their hopes were dashed when Iran made fresh demands that the IAEA close three ongoing probes into its undeclared nuclear activity.

“This latest demand raises serious doubts as to Iran’s intentions and commitment to a successful outcome on the JCPOA,” France, Germany and Britain said.

“Unfortunately, Iran has chosen not to seize this critical diplomatic opportunity,” they said, adding that “instead, Iran continues to escalate its nuclear program way beyond any plausible civilian justification.”

Iran called that statement “unconstructive” and “regrettable.”

A senior Israeli official predicted on Sunday that there will be no return to the nuclear deal before the November midterm elections in the United States.

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi will attend the UN General Assembly in New York next week. Guterres said Wednesday that he expects to meet with Raisi during that time, and said “it’s obvious” that the two will discuss Iran’s human rights record and the nuclear negotiations.

Guterres’s Wednesday briefing mainly addressed the war in Ukraine, climate change, and the related food and energy crises. The secretary-general recently returned from Pakistan, which has been devastated by flooding, and spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier on Wednesday.

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