UN nuclear chief to meet Iran president Raisi during ‘crucial talks’

The UN nuclear watchdog chief arrived in Iran on Saturday for talks with President Ebrahim Raisi and other officials in the aftermath of the discovery of uranium particles enriched to near-weapons-grade levels.

The International Atomic Energy Agency chief's two-day visit comes as the Vienna-based organization seeks greater cooperation with Iran on its nuclear activities.
Rafael Grossi arrived in Iran on Friday and a diplomatic source told AFP that he would meet Raisi during his trip to "relaunch the dialogue" on Iran's atomic work and to "reset the relationship at the highest level".

Grossi had made it clear that he would only travel to Tehran if he was invited to meet with the president, according to the source.

According to a confidential IAEA report seen by AFP this week, uranium particles enriched up to 83.7 percent — just under the 90 percent required to produce an atomic bomb — had been detected at Iran's underground Fordow plant about 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of the capital.

Tehran denies wanting nuclear weapons and claims it has made no attempts to enrich uranium beyond 60% purity.

During the enrichment process, "unintended fluctuations... may have occurred," according to Iran's government.

The discovery came after Iran made significant changes to an interconnection between two centrifuge clusters enriching uranium without informing the IAEA.

Grossi was met at Mehrabad International Airport on Friday by Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, and later met with its head, Mohammad Eslami.

Saturday morning, they planned to hold a joint press conference.

The IAEA director general will try to secure "more access to the (Fordow) site, more inspections" during his visit, according to a diplomatic source.

France, a signatory to a 2015 agreement that promised Iran relief from harsh economic sanctions in exchange for limits on its nuclear activities, called the new enrichment development "unprecedented and extremely serious" on Thursday.

Grossi's visit comes amid a stalemate in talks to resurrect the landmark agreement known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

- 'Better collaboration' -
The deal's restrictions, including the 3.67 percent enrichment threshold, were designed to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

Under then-President Donald Trump, the US unilaterally withdrew from the pact and reimposed sanctions, prompting Iran to suspend implementation of its own commitments.

Negotiations to resurrect the agreement began in 2021 but have been stalled since last year.

Grossi's visit is seen as another sign that a dialogue-based approach to resolving the nuclear standoff is possible in Iran.

"It is hoped that this trip will serve as the foundation for greater cooperation and a clearer horizon between Iran and the IAEA," Kamalvandi said before Grossi arrived.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told CNN that "the window for an agreement on negotiations to lift sanctions is still open, but this window will not be open forever".

Depending on the outcome of Grossi's visit, the US, along with the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, will decide whether to submit a draft resolution censuring Iran to the IAEA board of governors, which is scheduled to meet next week in Vienna.

After traces of enriched uranium were discovered at three undeclared sites in November 2022, Western nations chastised Iran for its lack of cooperation.

Grossi last visited Iran in early March 2022, for a sightseeing trip.

Grossi will hold a news conference upon his return to Vienna late Saturday afternoon, according to the IAEA.

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