International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi addresses a news conference during an IAEA board of governors meeting in Vienna, Austria, March 6, 2023

IAEA's Grossi Defends His Iran Trip, Says 'No Guarantees'

Monday, 03/06/2023

The head of UN’s nuclear agency, Rafael Grossi, told reporters on Monday that his meeting with Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi March 4 had “enormous importance.”

Pressed by a reporter to say how his latest trip to Tehran was different from all his other previous visits that failed to resolve outstanding issues, Grossi said “there were many differences,” emphasizing that he had a chance to point out the unresolved issues with the Iranian side.

The director general of the International Atomic Agency (IAEA) also added that he had a “very substantive” discussion with Iran’s foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. He emphasized that “talking to the decision makers” in politics “makes a big difference.”

Although Grossi highlighted his meetings with Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian, the main decision maker is the country’s ruler Ali Khamenei who controls foreign and military polices.

Grossi argued that in all areas of IAEA interaction with the Islamic Republic there was “substantive” progress. In case of the Fordow uranium enrichment facility “there will be inspection almost every other day,” he said.

In February, news emerged that the IAEA had found uranium particles at Fordow that were enriched to 84 percent – much higher than Iran’s 60-percent enrichment since 2021 – and close to weapons-grade uranium of 90-percent purity.

He also claimed that there were agreements on more monitoring mechanisms, which can mean more instruments placed in nuclear sites.

One of the many meetings between Grossi and Iran's nuclear chief Mohammad Eslami since 2021. March 5, 2022

However, Iranian officials and government websites have since denied any increased surveillance except a marginal increase of monitoring at Fordow. They have categorically denied that they agreed with Grossi to allow more cameras to be placed in Iranian nuclear installations.

Asked about these statements Grossi said he is not dismayed because he pays attention to what officials have promised him and watches their actions, emphasizing that “this is a new phase.”

“I believe there is a good opportunity,” the IAEA director said, adding that “I cannot guarantee…when people say these were promises, it is not just promises, we do have certain agreements.”

What was also revealing was Grossi’s statement that “I have to do my job and I continue, and I might have been frustrated as many other people…when there are no results… but this was a step in the right direction.”

What some journalists and critics say is that Iran might have gone a bit further this time to offer cooperation, but Grossi’s trip took place just days before the IAEA Board meeting, which leaves no time to test Tehran’s sincerity before the issue comes up in the meeting.

The Board has already censured Iran in its previous meetings for lack of cooperation with the IAEA, and with the revelation of 84-percent enrichment, the ground was set to issue another rebuke. With Grossi traveling to Tehran right before the meeting and returning with hopes of Iranian cooperation, the Board will have less reason this week to censure the Islamic Republic, although there is no real evidence that it will cooperate fully with the Agency.

Grossi admitted that he cannot even set a timetable for resolving issues with Iran. He told a reporter, who asked if he expected progress by the next Board meeting in June, that “these things take time.”

Regrading the chances to resume JCPOA talks between Iran and the West, Grossi said he is neither optimistic nor pessimistic, as this issue is beyond IAEA’s responsibilities. All he can hope is that his agency does its job to the fullest.

Talks that began in Vienna in April 2021 to revive the 2015 nuclear accord reached a deadlock last September. Since then, the United States has been saying that is not focused on the JCPOA talks, but is concerned about Tehran’s repression against domestic protests and supplying weapons to Russia.

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