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WORLD | 03-03-2022 13:05

Iran beckons top IAEA official with nuclear deal in sight

Top Iranian leaders will meet on Saturday with IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, the international official in charge of investigating their nation’s past nuclear activities.

Top Iranian leaders will meet on Saturday with the international official in charge of investigating their nation’s past nuclear activities, suggesting a potential solution to one of the key remaining issues preventing a reboot of Tehran’s atomic agreement with world powers.

Iran has demanded the International Atomic Energy Agency conclude its stalled probe of past nuclear work as part of an agreement to reactivate the 2015 accord, which capped the Islamic Republic’s atomic programme in exchange for sanctions relief. 

But western negotiators have said that’s not possible because the IAEA works independently and they don’t have the power to short-circuit an investigation. 

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said Wednesday that he’s nevertheless “optimistic” that his inspectors can find a solution that preserves his agency’s independence while advancing the possibility of a deal. 

Reviving the seven-year-old landmark nuclear agreement with Iran often referred to as the JCPOA would mean relief for global energy markets. Oil has surged to US$116 a barrel amid Russia’s war on Ukraine and the reluctance of other oil-producing nations to significantly increase production. 

Traders have been expecting a return of Iranian barrels to global markets this year. The Persian Gulf nation, which holds the world’s number two natural gas and number four crude reserves, could probably raise exports by around one million barrels a day within months of any deal, according to traders.

The original accord gave IAEA monitors unprecedented supervision over Iranian nuclear facilities, which they partially lost after the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the agreement to impose sweeping US sanctions. 

The agency has been probing the source of uranium particles detected at several undeclared locations in Iran. European and US diplomats have previously threatened to censure Tehran over its lack of cooperation with the IAEA, which convenes its next board meeting on March 7. 

Negotiators who are in their 11th month of on-and-off diplomacy in Vienna have been consulting with IAEA officials as talks wind to their conclusion, Grossi said. Diplomats, who have repeatedly blown past earlier time limits, have warned there are just days to salvage the accord. 

“These negotiations are coming to a decisive point,” said Grossi, whose previous attempts to advance his agency’s investigation through negotiations have failed. “We are working very hard to come to an agreement.”

At the Munich Security Conference last month, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said it was essential that the IAEA continue to investigate Iran in the event of a revived nuclear deal, which Israel opposes. The agency probe was triggered by a cache of documents smuggled out of Iran by Israeli spies. 

The United States under Trump unilaterally ditched the 2015 accord four years ago and applied economic penalties, prompting Iran to retaliate by enriching uranium close to the levels needed for a bomb. The stand-off fuelled conflicts in the Persian Gulf as well as attacks on shipping in waterways key to global commerce.

by Jonathan Tirone, Bloomberg

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