Iran’s atomic energy chief said Wednesday he expected within days a visit of representatives from the United Nations nuclear monitoring body.
“We hope the visit of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) officials to Tehran in the coming days can help resolve issues with the agency,” Mohammad Eslami, head of the Atomic Energy Agency Organization told state television.
Tehran and the IAEA have been increasingly at odds since earlier this year over uranium traces found by the IAEA in 2021 at three sites in Iran not declared as nuclear-related. Iran has argued IAEA questioning over the issue came only after allegations by Israel in 2018 and should be shelved as part of efforts to revive the Iran nuclear agreement, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).
“Our interactions with the agency are ongoing and we hope that a step forward will be taken in order to remove the obstacles and ambiguities with the agency,” Eslami said. There was no immediate confirmation from the IAEA over a visit, which would be addition to the agency’s on-going, albeit reduced, activity in Iran.
In November, Iran seemed to have canceled a similar IAEA trip reported to planned by the agency’s director Rafael Mariano Grossi. Eslami said at the time that “no meeting was scheduled.
In remarks to Hamshahri newspaper last week Iran’s nuclear chief said the uranium traces had been discovered at a farm, an abandoned mine and a landfill, and in the last had been found in imported waste. “This does not mean the place of discovery was a nuclear site or that it was an undeclared nuclear activity,” Eslami said.
Iran’s failure to satisfy the IAEA over the traces, which apparently relate to work carried out before 2003, has led the 35-member IAEA board to twice vote through censure motions, in June and November.
In the meantime, popular anti-regime protests in Iran and the government’s deadly use of violence have led to strong Western criticism of Tehran. This came after the JCPOA talks reached an impasse in August, and Western powers have said they are not focused on the nuclear talks at this point.
The protests and increasing international isolation, coupled with a deteriorating economic situation have put renewed pressures on Tehran.
Grossi: ‘An obligation, as simple as that’
In an interview this week with al-Jazeera television, Grossi, the IAEA director-general, insisted that it was “an obligation, as simple as that,” for Iran to satisfy the agency over the uranium traces, regardless of what “political decision-makers” might agree over the JCPOA.
Grossi said that Iran’s nuclear program needed to be assessed overall. “They are moving fast to increase…the enrichment capacity and the accumulation of enriched uranium,” he explained. The IAEA director-general highlighted Iran’s enrichment to 60 percent (as opposed to a 3.67 percent JCPOA cap), its use of more advanced centrifuges barred by the JCPOA, and its stockpiling enriched uranium, including 60-percent-enriched uranium, of which Iran has over 62kg and which is close to 90 percent ‘weapons grade.’
The JCPOA “allowed 5,000 centrifuges, of an older generation, the so-called IR-1s, which were slower,” Grossi said. “Now we are moving into IR-2, IR-4s, IR-6s…thousands of centrifuges…20-22,000 … far above what had been agreed before.”
But Grossi said the technology used was not the “indication of intentions.” Iran had a “right to enrich uranium,” he argued, but also a “responsibility to give assurances, that everything…is clear and there is no diversion [for non-peaceful purposes] …We have to sit down and talk to each other… Nobody is saying that they are making nuclear weapons, but at the same time…the constant accumulation of material at those very high levels requires a very intensive presence of IAEA inspectors. There is a need for transparency.”