Iran says UN nuclear watchdog officials to visit Tehran soon

IAEA has urged Tehran to explain enriched uranium at undeclared sites

Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi with nuclear chief Mohammad Eslami during Nuclear Technology Day in Tehran. AFP
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UN nuclear watchdog officials will visit Tehran in the coming days, Iran said on Wednesday.

Mohammed Eslami, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, said in comments aired by state TV that he hopes an International Atomic Energy Agency visit “can help resolve issues”.

Iran and the IAEA have been at loggerheads as Tehran continues to push ahead with its nuclear activity in breach of its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal, which fell apart four years ago.

Tehran agreed last month to an IAEA visit as the agency seeks answers on the presence of highly-enriched uranium at three undeclared sites.

Days later, the watchdog pressed Iran for urgent answers on its nuclear activity.

“Iran must now provide the necessary co-operation ― no more empty promises,” said Laura Holgate, the IAEA's US representative.

An analyst has told The National the visit may be intended to “distract the domestic population”, as Iran grapples with protests that have posed the biggest threat to the regime since its inception.

“Given how Iran has dangled — and reneged on — IAEA visits in the past, I am sceptical this is anything more than an effort to distract the domestic population and divide the international community,” said Henry Rome, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and expert on Iran.

The nuclear deal broke down after former US president Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and reimposed sanctions.

Iran then began rapidly enriching uranium far in excess of agreed upon levels, despite EU attempts to keep the agreement going.

Tehran has given “ample reason” to doubt it is serious about main obstacles to reviving the deal, Mr Rome added.

Whatever the intentions behind the visit, “it’s unlikely to stop either the fall in the Iranian rial or the rise of international alarm about Iranian regional or nuclear activities”.

Experts say Iran has enough enriched uranium at 60 per cent purity to build one nuclear device. Ninety per cent enrichment is usually required for a bomb, but experts at the US Institute for Science and International Security say it might be possible to build a device at the lower level of 60 per cent.

Its main nuclear sites are at Natanz, in Isfahan province, Fordow enrichment plant near the holy city of Qom and Bushehr plant on the Gulf coast.

Speaking in Abu Dhabi last week, Saudi Arabia Foreign Minister Prince Faisal Bin Farhan warned “all bets are off” if Iran obtains a nuclear weapon.

“We are in a very dangerous space in the region … you can expect that regional states will certainly look towards how they can ensure their own security,” he said at the World Policy Conference.

The UAE has also called for “explicit” security reassurances from its western allies as Iran further develops its nuclear programme and entrenches itself in the Russian war in Ukraine.

Western co-operation must be long-term and strategic, said Dr Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to President Sheikh Mohamed.

Meanwhile, IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said on Thursday the international organisation will make an all-out effort to stop North Korea's nuclear program and preserve international non-proliferation.

He made the comments as he met South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol during a visit to Seoul, South Korea's presidential office said.

Updated: December 15, 2022, 10:56 AM
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