Iran and IAEA restart talks amid nuclear deal deadlock

IAEA head Grossi announces resumption of talks, but neither side has changed its public stance.

Iranian officials listening at the IAEA conference
The Iranian delegation, led by the country's nuclear chief Mohamed Eslami (centre) attended the IAEA's general conference in Vienna, where talks between the two sides restarted [Leonhard Foeger/Reuters]

Tehran, Iran – Talks between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have restarted over a probe into nuclear material found at nuclear sites in Iran, which has been at the centre of the stall in efforts to restore the country’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

“Dialogue has restarted with Iran on clarification of outstanding safeguards issues,” tweeted Rafael Grossi, the director general of the global atomic watchdog late on Monday.

Grossi had met with Iran’s nuclear chief Mohammad Eslami in Vienna earlier on Monday following the General Conference of the agency, where both men delivered speeches.

Neither side divulged details of the talks or signalled a possible Grossi visit to Tehran. The IAEA head has visited several times in the past few years to resolve time-sensitive issues.

The central issue of the talks is a probe into traces of man-made nuclear particles found years ago at several Iranian sites, for which the agency maintains Iran has not provided a sufficient explanation.

Iran, on the other hand, has demanded that the safeguards probe be closed before Tehran and world powers can reach an agreement on restoring the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the nuclear deal is formally known.

“I would like to clarify that there are no undeclared activities or nuclear particles in Iran, and all allegations are strictly based on fabricated and false information by the occupying regime of Israel,” the Iranian nuclear chief told the IAEA conference.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran truly expects the agency to carry out its reporting, monitoring and verification in a more professional, unbiased and independent manner.”

Grossi, however, reiterated to the conference that the agency’s monitoring capabilities have been significantly hampered after Iran restricted them in reaction to the 2018 unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the nuclear deal, and attacks on Iranian nuclear sites thought to have been carried out by Israel.

“We need to find common solutions for problems that are not going to go away if we don’t solve them in a collaborative fashion,” the agency director said about the safeguards probe.

Deadlock on deal

Talks with world powers to restore the nuclear accord began in April 2021 and after many ups and downs, the European Union, as coordinator, produced a “final text” in August, based on which Tehran and Washington started relaying messages indirectly.

The US and its European allies said the latest Iranian response, submitted earlier this month, signalled a step backward as it presented new demands.

Iran, which says its nuclear programme is strictly peaceful, has maintained that the US needs to make concessions to reach an agreement, while US officials have said an agreement remains unlikely in the short term as the US mid-term elections loom in November.

Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, who is still in New York after accompanying President Ebrahim Raisi to the United Nations General Assembly, also signalled that Iran is ready to discuss the safeguards probe.

“We believe and accept that to [close the probe], there has to be some technical work to be done,” he told the Washington-based Al-Monitor website in an interview published Monday. “At the same time, the agency needs to behave and act technically.”

Raisi and Amirabdollahian held meetings with French President Emmanuel Macron and other top European leaders in New York last week, where they also discussed the safeguards probe.

Macron reportedly carried new proposals to move the talks forward, the details of which have not been publicised.

Despite the resumption of talks, the European Union is considering further sanctions against Iran in relation to a crackdown on protesters in the country following the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini earlier in September after she was detained by the country’s “morality police”.

Senators have also called for the withdrawal of the US from nuclear negotiations with Iran, but the administration of US President Joe Biden has rejected those calls and sought to differentiate between the protests and the nuclear talks.

Source: Al Jazeera