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Iran's Atomic Chief Hails Talks with UN Nuclear Watchdog

By Nigar Bayramli May 10, 2024

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Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Grossi who was visiting Iran to participate in the first International Conference on Nuclear Science and Technology, had met with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on May 6, 2023. / MFA.gov.ir

The head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI), Mohammad Eslami, has described the talks with the visiting Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, as "positive".

"We believe that our common agreement is a good basis for interaction, and we emphasized this baseline as a roadmap between Iran and the IAEA," Eslami said at a joint press conference with Grossi in Iran's central city of Isfahan on May 7, according to ISNA news agency.

The visit comes against a background of tensions between Iran and the IAEA over Tehran’s non-transparency in its nuclear activities and the increased and accelerated production of uranium enriched to above 60%.

Eslami underlined that Iran and the IAEA would continue their cooperation over resolving issues about the discovery of uranium particles in the two remaining undeclared sites in Iran.

Iran has yet again failed to provide any technically credible explanations regarding the nuclear sites in Turquzabad and Varamin, despite having promised the agency further information in August 2023, according to the E3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) statement issued on the NPT Safeguards Agreement with Iran at the IAEA Board of Governors meeting in March 2024. It has been five years since the Turquzabad investigation was opened and three and a half years since the Varamin investigation was opened.

Noting the importance of Grossi’s position as "a facilitator to remove the obstacles", Eslami warned against "hostile measures against Iran". The Iranian official claimed that “hostile measures” originated from Israel should not affect the interaction between Iran and the IAEA.

In turn, Grossi dismissed concerns about possible influence on the agency by Israel, saying that "we don’t pay attention to foreign actors, we are dealing with Iran."

The IAEA chief also said that both sides agreed in the current talks to continue their cooperation under the joint statement issued on March 3, 2023, by the Iranian nuclear body and the IAEA.

In this joint statement, Iran expressed “its readiness to continue its cooperation and provide further information and access to address outstanding safeguards issues" related to the three locations.

In a meeting with the visiting IAEA chief on May 6, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said that the cooperation between Iran and the IAEA should not be affected by Washington's "unstable and contradictory approach and behavior".

The minister also noted the importance of Grossi's "impartial and professional position" in cooperating with Iran and "returning security and stability in the region".

Referring to suggestions by some Israeli officials to use atomic bombs in the Gaza war as a "clear threat to regional and international peace and security," he emphasized the role of the IAEA in dealing with such threats.

For his part, Grossi said that improved cooperation between Iran and the IAEA would "lead to the failure of the parties who are seeking to intensify the conflict, tension and confrontation in the region with any justification."

Grossi also met Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Baqeri Kani, who also heads Iran's nuclear negotiation team in the talks to revive the JCPOA (The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal). Kani said at the meeting in Tehran that the "peaceful nuclear activities of Iran were within the framework of international commitments, including the Non-Proliferation Treaty".

The talks over the revival of the JCPOA have slowed down for over a year. Following the US withdrawal from the deal in May 2018, Iran began gradually increasing its uranium enrichment. However, Iran reiterates that it has not withdrawn from the nuclear deal, insisting that it acted accordingly.

In 2022, the IAEA Board of Governors censured Iran twice over its alleged lack of cooperation with the agency's safeguards probe. In reaction to the first censure resolution, Iran removed monitoring equipment from several nuclear sites – including cameras – in June 2022. In March 2023, the global nuclear watchdog found uranium particles enriched to 83.7% purity – very close to weapons-grade – at Iran's underground Fordow nuclear site.

Low-enriched uranium, which typically has a 3-5% concentration of U-235, can be used to produce fuel for commercial nuclear power plants. Highly enriched uranium has a purity of 20% or more and is used in research reactors. Weapons-grade uranium is 90% enriched or more. Under the nuclear deal, Iran agreed not to enrich uranium beyond the 3.67% purity and to halt enrichment altogether at Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant.