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IAEA, Iran agree to closer joint nuclear site inspections

March 4, 2023

Iran and the IAEA have agreed to more inspections and the reactivation of surveillance cameras and monitoring equipment at some of the country's nuclear sites. This comes after the IAEA's Rafael Grossi visited Tehran.

International Atomic Energy Organization, IAEA, Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, right, arrives for a meeting with head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Mohammad Eslami
Tehran insists its nuclear program is civilian in nature and denies wanting to acquire atomic weaponsImage: Vahid Salemi/AP Photo/picture alliance

In a joint statement, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Islamic Republic of Iran agreed to permit inspectors to carry out closer joint inspections, though the specific terms of what this will mean have yet to be worked out.

The head of the IAEA, Rafael Grossi, arrived in Tehran on Friday to hold talks with Iranian officials and seek "credible assurances" about the country's nuclear program.

On Saturday, he said the new agreement would lead to a 50% increase in inspections at the Fordow fuel enrichment plant as well as the reinstallation of monitoring equipment. The Iranians also promised Grossi access to people of interest in an investigation into uranium traces at undeclared sites.

The visit comes at a time when the agency is seeking Iran's increased cooperation in its nuclear activities. After landing in Tehran, Grossi met the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Eslami.

The IAEA recently reported picking up evidence of highly enriched uranium, just below the threshold for constructing a nuclear weapon.

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What did Grossi and Eslami discuss?

The two held a joint press conference after their meeting in which Grossi said the talks were proceeding in an "atmosphere of work, honesty and cooperation."

"Globally speaking, there are two sets of matters that are important. Clearly, there is great expectation about our joint work in order to move forward in the issues that Iran and the agency are working on, to clarify and to bring credible assurances about the nuclear program in Iran," Grossi told reporters in Tehran alongside Eslami.

He said the second set of matters "has to do with [the] scientific, technical cooperation we are having and will continue to have with Iran."

"By constructive discussions that we are having now, and by good agreements, I'm sure we are going to be paving the way for important agreements," the IAEA chief said.

Eslami said he and Grossi had come to "an arrangement to define our cooperation within the framework of the safeguards" regarding nuclear activity, but added that "Iran never sacrifices its national interests for anything else."

Grossi also later met with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi as part of his two-day visit. Raisi's political Chief of Staff Mohammad Jamshidi tweeted that the president had "called cooperation a two way street that continues based on Agency independence and fulfillment of the rights of Iranian nation."

What's the status of the nuclear talks?

IAEA inspectors in Iran recently found uranium particles enriched to about 84% — just under weapons-grade level — at a plant in Fordow, increasing tensions between Tehran and the West.

A purity level of about 90% is required for nuclear weapons.

Tehran insists that its nuclear program is civilian in nature and denies seeking to acquire nuclear weapons.

Iran's government said it had not made any attempt to enrich uranium beyond 60% purity, although it noted that "unintended fluctuations ... may have occurred" during the enrichment process.

The IAEA chief's visit comes during a deadlock in talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

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The United States unilaterally withdrew from the pact in 2018 under then President Donald Trump and reimposed sanctions.

Tehran then suspended the implementation of its own commitments under the pact.

Negotiations aimed at reviving the deal started in 2021 but have been stalled since last year.

ab, sri/msh (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)