U.N. nuclear chief arrives in Iran ahead of deadline

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) —

The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog Saturday arrived in Tehran ahead of Iran’s plan for partly suspending inspections by the agency to the country’s nuclear facilities, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Rafael Grossi will meet Iranian nuclear officials including Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the country’s nuclear department and a vice-president to President Hassan Rouhani.

Iran’s parliament in December approved a bill that would suspend part of U.N. inspections of its nuclear facilities under a 2015 nuclear deal, if European signatories to the deal do not provide relief from oil and banking sanctions by Feb 23. It will also stop implementation of the additional protocol that allows the IAEA inspectors to carry out more intrusive inspections to Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Following the 2015 deal, Iran voluntarily agreed to implement the additional protocol.

Earlier on Saturday Salehi said he and Grossi will meet on Sunday to discuss the agency’s “concerns” over the halt of the inspections as well as Iran’s cooperation with the agency.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said Wednesday that the visit has aimed at finding “a mutually agreeable solution for the IAEA to continue essential verification activities in the country.”

The visit, the second in a six-month span, comes amid diplomatic efforts to keep alive the nuclear agreement, which has been unraveling since the U.S. under then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from it in 2018.

In response to Trump’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, the country began to gradually violate its atomic commitments under the nuclear deal. It also threatened further provocations in a bid to increase its leverage and get President Joe Biden to prioritize a return to the deal as he moves to dismantle Trump’s legacy. Biden has said the U.S. is interested in rejoining the deal.

The ultimate goal of the deal is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, something Iran insists it does not want to do.

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