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UN nuclear chief to visit Iran to visit nuclear sites

UN nuclear chief is set to visit Iran to review its nuclear sites and to emphasize the importance of "cooperation"

The chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Grossi, will visit Tehran on Monday to review the country’s nuclear sites, his first visit to the country since taking office in December.

Grossi will hold talks with high-level government officials in Tehran on cooperation between the two sides and granting IAEA inspectors access to nuclear sites, according to a statement issued by the nuclear watchdog on Saturday.

Visit in order to reinforce the importance of cooperation

“I have decided to come personally to Tehran so that I can reinforce the importance of cooperation and the full implementation of all safeguards commitments and obligations with the IAEA,” Grossi said.

The objective of the visit, he underlined, was to make “progress” in addressing the “outstanding questions” that the IAEA has with Iran, particularly the issue of “access” to nuclear sites.

Read more: Joint commission of Iran nuclear accord to meet on September 1

The IAEA chief has in recent months issued strong statements, calling on Tehran to allow IAEA inspectors access to two nuclear sites in Iran. The statements have not gone down well with Tehran.

In his first address to the IAEA’s board of governors in March, Grossi had called on Iran to “cooperate immediately and fully” with the nuclear agency and provide access to inspectors.

In June, he told reporters in Vienna that Iran has “not engaged in substantive discussions to clarify our questions related to possible undeclared nuclear material and nuclear-related activities”.

Last month, Grossi warned that “things will be bad” for Iran if the IAEA inspectors were denied access to the nuclear sites, and said it was “an absolute necessity for us to resolve the issue very soon”.

History of nuclear sites

Iran’s interest in nuclear technology dates to the 1950s, when the Shah of Iran received technical assistance under the U.S. Atoms for Peace program. While this assistance ended with the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Iran remained interested in nuclear technology and developed an extensive nuclear fuel cycle, including sophisticated enrichment capabilities, which became the subject of intense international negotiations and sanctions between 2002 and 2015.

Negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran yielded the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in July 2015, a comprehensive 25-year nuclear agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear capacity in exchange for sanctions relief. On 16 January 2016, all nuclear-related sanctions on Iran were lifted in response to its progress meeting key metrics of the deal.

Read more: After UN rejection, US seizes 1 million barrels of Iranian oil

In May 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump announced that the United States would unilaterally cease implementing the JCPOA, and intended to re-impose nuclear-related sanctions on Iran. This decision was met with resistance by Iran and the other members of the P5+1, who stated their intent to maintain the deal without U.S. participation.

Iran has since rolled back its compliance with the deal’s operational limits on Iran’s nuclear program.

On 14 August 2002, the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) revealed the existence of undeclared nuclear facilities in Iran, including Natanz Enrichment Complex, the address of the Kalaye Electric Company, a heavy water production plant under construction at Arak, and the names of various individuals and front companies involved with the nuclear program.

Iran has so far refused access to the two nuclear sites, maintaining that the IAEA had no legal basis to inspect them since the activities at the sites are from early 2000s.

Earlier, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif had criticized the European countries for adopting a draft resolution to push for inspection of the two nuclear sites in question.

Iran’s envoy to the IAEA Kazzem Gharibabadi said “no country will open its territory to the inspections” based on allegations of its “enemies”.

Gharibabadi on Saturday confirmed the upcoming visit of the IAEA chief, saying it comes upon an invitation from the Iranian government.

The visit coincides with the looming uncertainty over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), following the US push to reinstate all international sanctions on Tehran by triggering the snapback mechanism under the agreement.

There is speculation that Iran will exit the deal and end cooperation with the IAEA, including leaving the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), if the pre-2015 sanctions are reinstated.

According to officials in Tehran, the issue is likely to figure prominently in the discussions between the IAEA chief and Iranian government officials.

Anadolu with additional information from GVS News desk