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The head of the UN nuclear watchdog is demanding more access to Iran

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) The head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog met with Iranian officials on Tuesday to push for greater access to the Islamic Republic ahead of the resumption of diplomatic talks on Tehran’s broken nuclear deal with world powers.

Rafael Mariano Grossi of the International Atomic Energy Agency again faces close-style talks with Iranian officials as his inspectors remain unable to access surveillance footage and face greater challenges in trying to monitor uranium stocks in rapid growth of Tehran. In the wake of then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the deal with Iran, the Islamic Republic now enriches small quantities of uranium up to 60% of its highest purity ever and close to 90% weapons level levels.

While Iran maintains that its program is peaceful, regional rival Israel has repeatedly warned that it will not allow Tehran to build a nuclear weapon and has allegedly launched attacks aimed at its program as part of a wider regional shadow war that is being played all over the Middle East in recent years. The United States under President Joe Biden, meanwhile, has said it is ready to return to the deal, but has warned that time is running out.

All of this raises the risk of a wider confrontation with Iran, which has taken a more difficult path ahead of talks under new President Ebrahim Raisi, a protg of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Writing on Twitter on Monday, Grossi said he hoped to address unresolved questions with Iranian officials.

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

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 UN in 2008 sanctioned Islam for involvement in, direct links to, or providing support for Iran’s sensitive nuclear proliferation activities or for the development of nuclear weapons distribution systems.

Following their conversation, Eslami gave a press conference in which he described the ongoing issues as technical and ungovernable by the political issues and plots of Iran’s enemies.

Some parts have not yet received answers and some parts relate to 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 provide details.

Grossi for his part described the talks as intense and not as definitive as Islam.

We are continuing at this point our negotiations with the aim of finding common ground, Grossi said. He later met with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, although details of their meeting were not immediately released.

Under a confidential agreement called the Additional Protocol with Iran, the IAEA collects and analyzes images from a series of surveillance cameras installed in Iranian nuclear countries. Those cameras helped him monitor Tehran’s program to see if it complied with the nuclear deal.

Iran’s hardline parliament in December 2020 passed a bill that would suspend part of UN inspections of its nuclear facilities if European signatories do not offer relief from oil and banking sanctions by February. Since February, the IAEA has not been able to access images from those cameras.

Under the agreement, the IAEA also placed about 2,000 harmless seals on nuclear materials and equipment. These stamps were communicated electronically to inspectors. Automated measuring devices also provided real-time data from the program. Even inspectors have not been able to access that data, making the task of monitoring Iran-enriched uranium reserves much more difficult.

The agency has also requested monitoring of activities at a centrifuge production site near the northern city of Karaj. The IAEA has not had access there since June after Iran said a sabotage attack by Israel significantly damaged the facility and an IAEA camera there.

In a separate report to IAEA member states earlier this month, the agency said Grossi was also concerned about inspectors undergoing highly invasive physical checks by security officials at Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Tuesday’s meeting comes ahead of a wider meeting of IAEA member states. Iran avoided facing a censorship vote on board with a similar Gross visit in September.

Meanwhile in Israel, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett described Iran’s nuclear program as at a very advanced stage, without giving details. Ahead of the resumption of nuclear talks between global powers and Iran, Bennett said he expects disagreements with our biggest friends.

Either way, even with the return to an agreement, Israel is obviously not part of the agreement. Israel is not affiliated with him, he said at a security conference in Herzliya. We will preserve our freedom to act.

___

Associated Press writer Tia Goldenberg in Tel Aviv, Israel, contributed to this report. Gambrell reported from Dubai, UAE.

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