UN nuclear watchdog chief cites 'great expectation' in talks with Iran

UN nuclear watchdog chief cites 'great expectation' in talks with Iran
Head of the IAEA sounded positive after his talks with officials in Iran on Saturday.
3 min read
Grossi (R) said the talks were taking place in an "atmosphere of work, honesty and cooperation" [Getty]

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said on Saturday talks were ongoing with Iran on two sets of important matters including the science sector, and there was "great expectation" about the process.

Rafael Grossi began meetings in Tehran on Friday that diplomats said were meant to push Iran to cooperate with an IAEA investigation into uranium traces found at undeclared sites that had been enriched close to nuclear-weapons grade.

"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 programme in Iran," Grossi told reporters in Tehran.

"The second set of issues, which is very important, has to do with scientific, technical cooperation we are having and will continue to have with Iran," he said, speaking alongside Mohammad Eslami, head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran.

Grossi said the talks were taking place in an "atmosphere of work, honesty and cooperation".

His visit comes amid contacts with Tehran on the origin of the uranium particles enriched to up to 83.7% purity, very close to the 90% threshold for weaponisation, at its underground Fordow enrichment plant, according to a report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog seen by Reuters.

Eslami told reporters on Saturday that the Islamic Republic was enriching uranium up to 60% fissile purity.

Under a 2015 agreement with six world powers, Iran curbed its disputed uranium enrichment programme in return for relief from international sanctions. But the accord began to unravel in 2018 after then-U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out and reimposed tough U.S. sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to start violating the deal's strict limits on enrichment.

Iran's stonewalling of a years-long IAEA investigation into uranium traces found at three undeclared sites prompted the United Nations watchdog's 35-nation Board of Governors to pass a resolution at its last quarterly meeting in November ordering Tehran to cooperate urgently with the inquiry.

That cooperation has not materialised and Grossi hoped a meeting with hardline President Ebrahim Raisi would help smooth the way towards ending the deadlock, diplomats in Europe said. The board's next quarterly meeting starts on Monday.

Grossi said it was an “issue of necessity to have a very deep, serious systematic dialogue with Iran. This is why I am here. It’s been too long". He said he would "judge our degree of satisfaction at the end of the day".