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News / Nation & World

The UN’s nuclear watchdog chief will visit Iran next week as concerns rise about uranium enrichment

By JON GAMBRELL, Associated Press
Published: May 2, 2024, 8:47am

JERUSALEM (AP) — The head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog will travel to Iran next week as Tehran’s nuclear program enriches uranium a step away from weapons-grade levels and international oversight remains limited, officials said Wednesday.

Rafael Mariano Grossi’s visit will coincide with a nuclear energy conference Iran will hold in the central city of Isfahan, which hosts sensitive enrichment sites and was targeted in an apparent Israeli attack on April 19. It also coincides with wider regional tensions in the Mideast inflamed by the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip, including attacks on shipping by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency will visit Iran on May 6 and 7, the Vienna-based agency said. It did not elaborate on his schedule or his meetings.

Iranian state television has described the conference in Isfahan as an “international conference on nuclear sciences and techniques.” The broadcaster quoted Mohammed Eslami, the head of Iran’s civilian nuclear program, as saying on Wednesday that Grossi will attend the conference and meet with him and other officials.

“I am sure that the ambiguities will be resolved and we can strengthen our relations with the agency within the framework of safeguards and” the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Eslami said.

Tensions have only grown between Iran and the IAEA since then-President Donald Trump in 2018 unilaterally withdraw America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. Since then, Iran has abandoned all limits the deal put on its program and now has enough enriched uranium for “several” nuclear bombs if it chose to build them, Grossi has warned.

IAEA surveillance cameras have been disrupted, while Iran has barred some of the agency’s most experienced inspectors. Iranian officials have increasingly threatened they could pursue atomic weapons, particularly after launching an unprecedented drone-and-missile attack on Israel last month.

Iran has always denied seeking nuclear weapons, saying its atomic program is for purely civilian purposes. However, U.S. intelligence agencies and the IAEA say Iran had an organized military nuclear program up until 2003.

The latest American intelligence community assessment says Iran “is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities necessary to produce a testable nuclear device.”

Associated Press writer Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.