Iran and UN nuclear watchdog 'reach deal' on monitoring

Joint statement issued after IAEA chief visits Tehran for talks with officials

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi (R) greets IAEA head Rafael Grossi in Tehran. EPA / Iranian Presidential Office
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The UN's nuclear watchdog has agreed to a deal with Iran on the agency’s monitoring activities inside the country, its chief has said.

Rafael Grossi said the agreement included reinstalling monitoring equipment at nuclear sites and gaining access to people of interest in an investigation into uranium traces at undeclared sites.

The International Atomic Energy Agency chief held talks with officials in Tehran on Saturday, days after it was revealed in a leaked report that Iran had enriched particles of uranium to near weapons grade, and before an IAEA board of governors' meeting on Monday, when they could vote to censure Iran for a third time in less than a year.

A joint statement issued after the talks said Iran “expressed its readiness to … provide further information and access to address the outstanding safeguards issues” — a reference to the uranium traces.

“Both sides recognise that such positive engagements can pave the way for wider agreements among state parties,” it said.

Speaking after his return to Vienna, Mr Grossi said Tehran was supposed to provide access to information, locations and people, but Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told state news outlet IRNA that the issue of access to individuals was "never raised" during the IAEA chief's visit.

Tehran and the IAEA have been at loggerheads since Iran stepped back from its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal, which collapsed after the US withdrew in 2018. Iran has since increased its uranium enrichment and resisted calls to explain the presence of traces of the element at undeclared sites.

“Over the past few months, there was a reduction in some of the monitoring activities" related to cameras and other equipment “which were not operating”, Mr Grossi told reporters in Vienna. “We have agreed that those will be operating again.”

He did not provide details about which equipment would be restored or how soon it would happen, but appeared to be referring to Iran's removal of surveillance cameras from its nuclear sites in June, during a standoff with the agency.

The 2015 agreement, aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, capped Tehran’s uranium stockpile and limited its uranium enrichment to 3.67 per cent — enough to fuel a nuclear power plant. It also barred nuclear enrichment at the underground nuclear plant at Fordow, about 100km south of Tehran.

Last month, the IAEA said "substantial changes" had been made to enrichment centrifuges at Fordow without notifying the agency in advance.

The leaked IAEA report said uranium particles enriched up to 83.7 per cent — weapons-grade is 90 per cent — were detected at Fordow, AFP reported.

However, Mohammad Eslami, chief of the Atomic Energy Organisation, claimed that “ambiguities have been resolved” over the presence of the particles. He was quoted by state media as saying Iran's uranium enrichment remained at 60 per cent.

Mr Grossi said the IAEA and Iran would convene more technical meetings “very soon” in Tehran to clarify investigators’ questions.

“Sometimes in this kind of facility there can be oscillations that can be accidental,” he said. “But it can be otherwise. The idea of this process is to determine how it happened.”

He told the European Parliament last month that Iranian authorities had “amassed enough nuclear material for several nuclear weapons”.

But he said he was “blind” to many aspects of the country's nuclear activity, including how many centrifuges Iran had.

Updated: March 05, 2023, 8:55 PM