Iran invites IAEA chief for talks before showdown with West

VIENNA: U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi will fly to Tehran this weekend for talks that may ease a standoff between Iran and the West just as it risks escalating and scuppering negotiations on reviving the Iran nuclear deal, diplomats said on Saturday.

Three diplomats who follow the International Atomic Energy Agency closely said Grossi’s trip before next week’s meeting of the IAEA’s 35-nation board of governors was confirmed.

Two said Grossi was due to arrive in Tehran early on Sunday and meet the new head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Mohammad Eslami.

The IAEA informed its member states this week that there had been no progress on two central issues: explaining uranium traces found at several old, undeclared sites and getting urgent access to some monitoring equipment so that the agency can continue to keep track of parts of Iran’s nuclear program as provided for by the 2015 deal.

Separate, indirect talks between the United States and Iran on both returning to compliance with the nuclear deal have been halted since June. Washington and its European allies have been urging hardline President Ebrahim Raisi’s administration, which took office in August, to return to the talks.

Under the 2015 deal between Iran and major powers, Tehran agreed to restrictions on its nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions against it.

President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of thedeal in 2018, re-introducing painful economic sanctions. Iran responded as of 2019 by breaching many of the deal’s core restrictions, like enriching uranium to a higher purity, closer to that suitable for use in nuclear weapons. – AP