United Nations Asks Iran for More Access Before Nuclear Talks Begin Again

The chief of the United Nations' atomic watchdog agency pushed Iranian officials to provide greater access to monitor growth in Iran's uranium stockpile and nuclear program during a meeting Tuesday, the Associated Press reported. It comes as diplomatic negotiations to revive the Iran nuclear deal are set to commence soon and tensions with other global powers are on the rise.

Former President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the nuclear deal while in office, and Iran has since grown its uranium stores and achieved its highest ever uranium enrichment level of 60 percent purity, slightly short of the weapons-grade level of 90 percent. In a reversal from his predecessor, President Joe Biden said that the U.S. is willing to reenter the nuclear deal, but time is beginning to run short.

Inspectors from the United Nation's International Atomic Energy Agency have been unable to watch surveillance footage and continue to deal with other challenges amid attempts to keep an eye on Iran's rising uranium supply.

Regional rival Israel has been scrutinizing Iran under suspicions that it will build nuclear weapons, though Iran has insisted its nuclear strides are peaceful.

The tensions raise the stakes even more on the upcoming diplomatic talks with Iran to revive the deal. However, IAEA head Rafael Mariano Grossi wrote on Twitter Monday that he hoped to use his meeting with Iranian officials to "address outstanding questions."

"I hope to establish a fruitful and cooperative channel of direct dialogue so the (IAEA) can resume essential verification activities in the country," Grossi said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

U.N., Iran Nuclear Talks
Head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi, met Tuesday with Iranian officials to press for greater access in the Islamic Republic ahead of diplomatic talks restarting over Tehran's tattered nuclear deal with world powers. Grossi left, and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian shake hands for the media prior to their meeting, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. Vahid Salemi/AP Photo

On Tuesday, Grossi went to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, the country's civilian nuclear agency, for his third-such visit since February. He spoke with Mohammad Eslami, the new head of the organization. The U.N. in 2008 sanctioned Eslami for "being engaged in, directly associated with or providing support for Iran's proliferation sensitive nuclear activities or for the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems."

After their talk, Eslami gave a news conference in which he described the ongoing issues as "technical" and not governed by the "political issues and conspiracies" of Iran's enemies.

"Some parts are yet to be answered and some parts have to do with issues that have already been closed in the past," he said. "They have been addressed in the nuclear deal and have been closed. Today, we agreed to put an end to them."

Eslami did not elaborate.

Grossi for his part described the talks as "intense" and was not as definitive as Eslami.

"We are continuing at this point our negotiations with a view to finding common ground," Grossi said.

He later met Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, who said Iran was determined for "constructive engagement" with the IAEA to "improve mutual trust and cooperation," according to a report by the state-run IRNA news agency.

Under a confidential agreement called an "Additional Protocol" with Iran, the IAEA collects and analyzes images from a series of surveillance cameras installed at Iranian nuclear sites. Those cameras helped it monitor Tehran's program to see if it is complying with the nuclear deal.

Iran's hard-line parliament in December 2020 approved a bill that would suspend part of U.N. inspections of its nuclear facilities if European signatories did not provide relief from oil and banking sanctions by February. Since February, the IAEA has been unable to access imagery from those cameras.

Under the deal, the IAEA also placed around 2,000 tamper-proof seals on nuclear material and equipment. Those seals communicated electronically to inspectors. Automated measuring devices also provided real-time data from the program. Inspectors as well haven't been able to access that data, making the task of monitoring Iran's enriched uranium stockpile that much more difficult.

The agency also has sought monitoring of activities at a centrifuge parts production site near the northern city of Karaj. The IAEA has had no access there since June after Iran said a sabotage attack by Israel considerably damaged the facility and an IAEA camera there.

In a separate report to IAEA member states earlier this month, the agency said Grossi also was concerned about inspectors "being subjected to excessively invasive physical searches by security officials at nuclear facilities in Iran."

Tuesday's meeting comes ahead of a wider meeting of the IAEA member states. Iran avoided facing a censure vote at the board with a similar Grossi visit in September.

Meanwhile in Israel, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett described Iran's nuclear program as being in a "very advanced stage," without providing details. Ahead of the resumption of nuclear talks between global powers and Iran, Bennett said he expects "disagreement with our greatest of friends."

"Either way, even with the return to an agreement, Israel is of course not part of the agreement. Israel is not bound by it," he told a security conference in Herzliya. "We will maintain our freedom to act."

Grossi Talks With Iranian Foreign Minister
Inspectors from the United Nation’s International Atomic Energy Agency have been unable to watch surveillance footage and continue to deal with other challenges amid attempts to keep an eye on Iran’s rising uranium supply. Head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. Vahid Salemi/AP Photo