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Iran Must Come Clean About Hidden Uranium to Revive Nuclear Deal, IAEA Chief Warns

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Iran must come clean about recent findings of undeclared uranium to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement, the director general of the U.N. nuclear watchdog has told The Liberty Buzz.

In an interview, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi said “detailed and technical discussions” are needed to ascertain the location of Iran’s undeclared uranium and that this issue is “totally connected” to the future of the deal.

He said there were a number of points that were “still unclear” relating to traces of uranium that were found but had not been declared in the past by Tehran.

“We need to know what was going on there, we need to know exactly what kind of activities were taking place there, and we need to know if there was material, where is this material now?” Grossi said.

“Because it hasn’t been declared. This necessitates a very detailed and technical discussion, which was not taking place.”

Last month, a Reuters report revealed that the IAEA found uranium particles in two Iranian sites it inspected last August and September, after months of stonewalling by Tehran.

The discovery threatens to complicate talks of reviving the nuclear agreement, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA), signed between Iran and global powers in 2015.

Relations between Iran and Washington soured after U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the nuclear deal in 2018 and the Biden Administration has been trying to revive the talks.

However, several attacks on Iranian and U.S. targets in the region and the killing of Iran’s top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh last November have damaged hopes of getting the accord back on track.

The targeted killing of Iran’s top military general Qassem Soleimani in January 2020 also dealt a heavy blow to the chances of reviving the deal.

Grossi broached the topic of undeclared uranium with top Iranian officials in Tehran shortly after the announcement that traces were found. He raised the issue with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Vice President Ali Akbar Salehi, who heads the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.

The IAEA head said he re-iterated to them that “in the absence of clarifications” the “whole thing would suffer because at this point, frankly, everything is interconnected.”

“For the public out there, there is one thing—which is what’s going on with the program in Iran,” Grossi told The Liberty Buzz.

Talks in Tehran

The IAEA will be holding talks in Tehran in early April to address this issue.

“We have some information, we have some hypotheses, and we are going to be putting very clear questions to our Iranian counterparts in order to see whether we can clarify this,” Grossi said.

Asked when he is hoping to draw a conclusion on Iran’s undeclared nuclear capabilities, Grossi demurred.

“It’s difficult to say I want to clarify this by ‘X’ date. But my intention would be to try to at least have some credible elements within the next few months, by the summer, if possible,” he said.

“My obligation is to make sure that everything is duly accounted for, otherwise we may repeat past experiences where the IAEA was accounting for things in other places forbidden or undeclared activities were ongoing so it is an urgent matter.

“It is something that requires clarification, because, without that, the shadow of the cloud will be looming large over anything we do with Iran.”

In mid-February Iran threatened to stop implementing the “voluntary transparency measures” in the JCPoA, along with other arrangements in Iran’s Safeguards Agreement.

Tehran had previously set a deadline of February 21, vowing that if oil and banking sanctions were not lifted by the U.S. by then it will expel the U.N.’s nuclear inspectors from the country, ending outside access to its facilities.

However, that day, Grossi announced the IAEA had struck a deal with Iran to cushion the blow of the steps Tehran took to end snap inspections, with both sides agreeing to keep “necessary” monitoring for up to three months.

The IAEA chief warned that the three-month bridge was “quite fragile” and if there is no tangible progress by mid-May when this temporary agreement runs out Washington-Tehran relations will likely enter “a very turbulent period”.

“You may well have a situation where you have ongoing consultations, ongoing negotiations, and at least the prospect of some agreement. You may also have an agreement, or you may have none of the above,” Grossi said.

“If that is the case, we will have a major problem. This will mean that you will almost all doors and windows of to the [nuclear] program will be closed and, in that circumstance, we would be getting into a very turbulent period.”

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), speaks during a press conference at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna on March 4, 2021. – European nations will not go ahead with a planned resolution criticising Iran at this week’s meeting of the UN nuclear watchdog, diplomatic sources said on March 4, 2021. Grossi said Iran must come clean about recent findings of undeclared uranium to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement.
Alex Halada/Getty

Grossi also told The Liberty Buzz that there is not a new Iran deal currently on the table. Instead, the sides will revisit the JCPoA or “a tweaked version” of the old deal.

The diplomat said that the talks need to move forward “sooner rather than later” because relations continuing as they are between Tehran and Washington is “not sustainable.”

But he said there was some “guarded optimism” on both sides.

“I think every side wants to move to an agreement but there are reluctances and doubts that are perhaps understandable from one side or the other side,” Grossi said.

“And we see ourselves as part of the solution, because when people know the activities and people get the guarantee of what is going on, then suspicion and anxieties tend to go down.”

3/24/21 6.00AM ET: The original version of this article contained an incorrect reference to Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri. The vice president Grossi met was actually Ali Akbar Salehi.

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