UN nuclear chief to visit Tehran; Merkel presses Rouhani

BERLIN (AP) — The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog will travel to Iran this weekend in an effort to find a “mutually agreeable solution” that allows it to continue its inspections in the country, the organization said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel pressed Iran’s president for “positive signals” that would help resolve a diplomatic standoff over the future of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, her office said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said that Director General Rafael Grossi will visit Tehran on Saturday for discussions with senior Iranian officials, whom it did not identify.

It said the aim is “to find a mutually agreeable solution for the IAEA to continue essential verification activities in the country.”

Grossi’s trip 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 in 2018.

Tehran has been using its violations of the deal to put pressure on the remaining signatories — France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China — to provide more incentives to Iran to offset crippling American sanctions re-imposed after the U.S. pullout.

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

President Joe Biden has said he will seek to revive the deal, but insisted that Iran must first reverse its nuclear steps, creating a contest of wills. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said earlier this month that the U.S. must lift all sanctions if it wants Iran to live up to commitments.

In a phone conversation with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed the “high interest” of Germany and the other remaining signatories in preserving the deal, her office said in a statement.

She voiced concern that Iran isn’t fulfilling its commitments and told Rouhani that “it is now time for positive signals that create trust and raise the chances of a diplomatic solution,” the statement added.

Iran has said it will stop part of the inspection of its nuclear facilities by the IAEA next week if the West doesn’t implement its own commitments.

On Monday, Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, said he had sent a letter to the agency detailing restrictions on inspectors to take effect on Feb. 23.

He said Iran would cease to adhere to the so-called Additional Protocol, an arrangement that provides the IAEA broad access and information regarding Iran’s nuclear program, including both declared and undeclared facilities.

Following the killing of a prominent Iranian nuclear scientist last fall, Iran’s parliament passed a law that vowed to restrict access of U.N. watchdog inspectors if the sanctions imposed on its oil and banking sectors are not lifted.

Grossi last week offered to travel to Iran in view of the proposed changes, which the agency said “would have a serious impact on the IAEA’s verification and monitoring activities in the country.”

On Thursday, the French, German and British foreign ministers plan to discuss Iran at a meeting in Paris and hold a videoconference with new U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

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Associated Press writer Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

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