UN nuclear chief says Iran pledges more access for inspectors

Iran makes sweeping pledges of cooperation after the head of the UN atomic agency meets top Iranian officials in Tehran.

Iran has agreed to reconnect cameras and other monitoring equipment at its nuclear sites and increase the pace of inspections, according to the head of the United Nations atomic agency.

Rafael Grossi made the announcement on Saturday after meeting Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and other top officials in Tehran.

His visit followed the discovery of uranium particles enriched to near weapons-grade level at an underground Iranian facility and came just two days before a quarterly meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) 35-nation board of governors.

“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,” Grossi told reporters upon his return to Vienna, Austria, where the agency has its headquarters.

“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 2022, during an earlier standoff with the IAEA.

“These are not words. This is very concrete,” Grossi said of the assurances he received in Tehran.

The IAEA and Iran also issued a joint statement following Grossi’s visit, saying Tehran has “expressed its readiness to … provide further information and access to address the outstanding safeguards issues”.

The statement gave little additional detail, but the possibility of a marked improvement in relations between the two is likely to stave off a Western push for another resolution ordering Iran to cooperate, the Reuters news agency cited diplomats as saying.

A confidential IAEA report to member states seen by Reuters said Grossi “looks forward to … prompt and full implementation of the Joint Statement”.

Iran is supposed to provide access to information, locations and people, Grossi told reporters, suggesting a vast improvement after years of Iranian stonewalling.

Iran would also allow the reinstallation of extra monitoring equipment that had been put in place under the 2015 nuclear deal but then removed last year as the agreement unravelled in the wake of the United States’s withdrawal from the deal in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump.

“This is very, very important” in terms of continuity of knowledge, “in particular in the context of the possibility of the revival of JCPOA”, Grossi said, referring to the 2015 accord on Iran’s nuclear activity, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Follow-up talks in Iran between IAEA and Iranian officials aimed at hammering out the details would happen “very, very soon”, Grossi said.

The IAEA chief arrived in Iran on Friday with talks deadlocked on reviving the 2015 pact between Iran and world powers that promised Tehran relief from biting economic sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear activities.

A confidential IAEA report earlier this week said uranium particles enriched up to 83.7 percent — just less than the 90 percent needed to produce an atomic bomb — had been detected at Iran’s underground Fordow plant about 100km (62 miles) south of Tehran.

Grossi told reporters that the IAEA needed to further inspect the facility and that Iran had agreed to “50 percent more inspections” there.

Iran denies wanting to acquire nuclear weapons and says it had made no attempt to enrich uranium beyond 60-percent purity.

Iran’s government has said, however, that “unintended fluctuations … may have occurred” during the enrichment process.

The discovery came after Iran had substantially modified an interconnection between two centrifuge clusters enriching uranium without declaring it to the IAEA.

Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari, reporting from Tehran, said Grossi’s visit and Iranian pledges to allow inspections at the Fordow nuclear site as well as access to its senior officials have raised hopes of resolving a years-long deadlock.

“It seems to be a step in the right direction we see being taken by Iranian officials to increase their cooperation with the agency and to move forward and get away from this impasse that they’ve had with the agency over the past nearly two years,” she said.

But scepticism remained.

Miles Pomper, senior fellow at the Washington, DC, office of the Center of Non-Proliferation Studies, said if Iran implemented the latest agreement, “that would be very helpful to the negotiations”.

“If they actually allowed IAEA inspectors to see those sites, and provided explanations, that will go a long way towards restoring hopes for the deal,” he told Al Jazeera.

But “I’m sceptical,” he said.

“So we’re gonna have to see whether the Iranians just kind of drag that out to avoid censure at the IAEA or if they’re serious for a change.”


Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies