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IAEA chief negotiates nuclear access with Iran

Amid rising tensions on the U.N. Security Council over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, IAEA and Tehran said Tehran will allow inspectors at two nuclear sites.

VIENNA (AN) — Amid rising tensions on the U.N. Security Council over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the International Atomic Energy Agency and Tehran announced on Wednesday that Iran will allow inspectors to examine two nuclear sites.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog agency and Iran's government said in a joint statement that the Islamic Republic will “voluntarily“ provide access to the two sites where the nation is suspected of having stored or used undeclared nuclear material.

“Both sides recognize the independence, impartiality and professionalism of the IAEA continue to be essential in the fulfilment of its verification activities,” said the statement by IAEA Director General Rafael Gross and Iran’s Vice President and Atomic Energy Organization chief Ali-Akbar Salehi.

IAEA and Iran have been at loggerheads for months over the inspections, which involve two sites believed to date back nearly two decades. Tehran had argued they are not covered by its 2015 nuclear deal with major powers.

The announcement resulted from Grossi’s visit this week to Iran for meetings with high-level Iranian authorities. It was his first visit to the Mideast regional power since he took office last December, IAEA said in a statement.

IAEA said Grossi went to discuss Iran's cooperation with the United Nations agency, and to press for the nation to give international nuclear inspectors access to the two sites.

The meetings provided a chance to “reinforce the importance of cooperation and the full implementation of all safeguards commitments and obligations with the IAEA,” Grossi said.

“I also hope to establish a fruitful and cooperative channel of direct dialogue with the Iranian government,” he added, “which will be valuable now and in the future.”

Upon his return to Vienna late Wednesday, Grossi, a veteran Argentinian diplomat with deep experience in the fields of disarmament and nonproliferation, called it an “important trip.” He said the agreement includes specific inspection dates, but he did not disclose when those are.

“It is very, very soon,” he told an informal news briefing videotaped by IAEA. “This was the result of dogged, systematic dialogue.”

Iran's U.N. Ambassador Kazem Gharibabadi in Vienna said his nation "is one of the main partners of the agency and we hope this visit will lead to reinforced mutual cooperation," according to Iran's permanent U.N. mission in the Austrian capital.

Vienna-based IAEA previously reported Iran violated parts of the agreement. Tehran said it merely acted in accordance with the Trump administration's pullout from the deal in 2018 and began reimposing U.S. sanctions.

U.S. withdrawal at question

Earlier this month, the United States pressured the Security Council to use the nuclear deal to restore international sanctions against Tehran. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration sent a formal notice demanding reimposed sanctions on Iran — despite Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal.

The notice delivered by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to this month's council president, Indonesia’s U.N. Ambassador Dian Triansyah Djani, argued Tehran's “significant non-performance” under the deal legally triggers so-called “snapback” U.N. sanctions.

“Make no mistake: the U.N. Security Council failed to hold Iran accountable, enabled the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism to buy and sell deadly weapons, and ignored the demands of countries in the Middle East,” Pompeo said. “We will not continue down a path whose predictable end is more violence, terror, and a nuclear armed Iran.”

Russian and European diplomats said the United States’ demand lacks merit, however, because of its withdrawal from deal — known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA — which lifted crippling economic sanctions on Iran and imposed enforceable limits on its nuclear program.

The JCPOA represented a gambit by world powers to permit Iran’s economic opening to the West in exchange for assurances of nonproliferation. It was crafted to include all five permanent, veto-wielding members of the 15-nation council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus the European Union and Germany. The council unanimously endorsed the JCPOA in July 2015.

The remaining parties to the deal plan to meet in Vienna on September 1 for a discussion about how to keep the agreement alive. Trump's reimposition of U.S. sanctions ratcheted up the pressure on Iran’s struggling economy and ruling regime, while further inflaming transatlantic tensions.

In response, Iran announced it will no longer comply with most of the nonproliferation limits under the nuclear deal. However, it has continued to grant some access to IAEA's nuclear inspectors.