Rafael Grossi, head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog, is expected in Tehran later Friday for talks with officials after inspectors from his Iran office found uranium particles enriched to just below weapons-grade levels.
The visit by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency comes with the Vienna-based organization trying to get Iran to increase cooperation on its nuclear activities.
A confidential IAEA report accessed by AFP on Tuesday said uranium particles enriched to 83.7 percent — just under the 90 percent needed to produce a nuclear bomb — had been discovered at Iran’s underground Fordo plant, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of the capital. .
Tehran denies acquiring nuclear weapons and said last week it had made no attempt to enrich uranium beyond 60 percent purity.
The discovery came after Iran made major changes to a connection between two centrifuge clusters that enriched uranium, without declaring it to the IAEA.
The IAEA tweeted on Thursday that Grossi would “travel to Tehran for high-level meetings at the invitation of the Iranian government”.
Iran’s Fars news agency said the director-general of the IAEA would arrive in Tehran on Friday evening ahead of meetings to be held on Saturday.
A diplomatic source told AFP that Grossi would also meet with President Ebrahim Raisi to “restart dialogue on Iran’s nuclear work” and “repair the relationship at the highest level”.
The IAEA chief’s visit comes amid a deadlock in negotiations to revive the 2015 deal that promised Iran relief from harsh economic sanctions in exchange for curbing its nuclear activities.
– ‘More collaboration’ –
These restrictions, including the 3.67 percent enrichment threshold stipulated in the deal, were designed to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
However, the United States unilaterally withdrew from the 2018 deal under then-President Donald Trump and reimposed sanctions, prompting Iran to suspend implementation of its own commitments under the accord.
Negotiations to revive the deal – formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA – began in 2021 but have stalled since last year.
Grossi’s visit is seen in Iran as another indication that a diplomatic approach to resolving the nuclear standoff is possible.
“It is hoped that this trip will provide the basis for greater cooperation and a clearer horizon between Iran and the IAEA,” said Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.
Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said in an interview with 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 trip, the United States and the E3 – the European powers Britain, France and Germany – will decide whether to submit a draft resolution condemning Iran to the IAEA Executive Board, which will be held next week in Vienna. .
In November 2022, Iran was criticized for its lack of cooperation regarding traces of enriched uranium found in three undeclared locations.
Grossi’s last visit to Iran took place in early March 2022 and focused on the three undeclared sites.
The IAEA said Grossi would hold a press conference on Saturday afternoon upon his return to Vienna.