IAEA Head Holds Talks With Iran Nuclear Chief As Suspension of Inspections Looms

Amid renewed hopes of the United States and Iran unlocking the nuclear deal impasse, reports said that the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog held discussions with Iran's atomic chief on Sunday. The crucial talks came ahead of Iran partially suspending the UN inspections of its nuclear facilities and possibly expelling US inspectors.

The meeting between the head of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's nuclear department, comes amid heightened concerns that Iran might expel UN inspectors from the country. Iran had allowed IAEA inspectors at its nuclear sites under a 2015 nuclear deal with global powers including the United States. The stalemate happened after former US president Donald Trump exited the Iran nuclear deal in 2018.

Hassan Rouhani and Donald Trump
The tensions between Iran and US have escalated steadily over the last few years since Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal Wikimedia Commons

First Major Step in the Last Two Years

Tehran has been putting pressure on the partners in the agreement to get the US back to the discussion table. The European Union has offered to broker a dialogue between the US and Iran but Tehran insists that Washington lift the sanctions first.

Sunday's talks, the first major step in the last two years, came on Thursday when the Biden administration said it would start talks with Iran over the deal, which is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The US move came in response to the EU offer to mediate between the two sides. Ned Price, the US State department spokesman, said Washington will accept an invitation from the European Union.

Iran nuclear programme
ran Nuclear Deal Talks: US Secretary of State John Kerry (L), US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz (2L), Robert Malley (3L), of the US National Security Council, European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini (C), Head of Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation Ali Akbar Salehi (2R) Reuters

Iranians Continue to Enrich Uranium

Ever since Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal, Iran has ramped up nuclear activities which were barred under the terms of the JCPOA. The International Atomic Energy Agency said in October last year that Iran was short of 'significant quantity' of potential bomb material. What can be read between the lines was that Tehran made advances in pursuit of its alleged clandestine nuclear weapons program after the US exited the nuclear deal.

By 'significant quantity' IAEA means the ballpark amount of nuclear material with which the making of a nuclear explosive device cannot be excluded. "The Iranians continue to enrich uranium, and to a much higher degree than they have committed themselves to. And this amount is growing by the month," IAEA chief Rafael Grossi told Die Presse, an Austrian newspaper.

In November 2019, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani himself said the country was kickstarting the stalled nuclear program. He said uranium was to be injected into 1,044 centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Iran's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi confirmed that 30 advanced IR-6 centrifuges were to be launched in a move to accelerate the uranium enrichment process, which was in clear violation of the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal.

In December 2020, Iran's parliament passed a bill seeking partial suspension of UN inspections of its nuclear facilities. The inspection was part of the 2015 nuclear deal. Iran set a deadline of February 23 for the European signatories to offer relief from oil and banking sanctions.