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UN atomic watchdog chief to head to Iran as global tensions simmer

The head of the UN's atomic watchdog agency will visit Tehran on Monday to press Iranian authorities for access to sites where it is thought the country has stored used or undeclared nuclear material, the organisation said on Saturday.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi's visit comes amid international pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme and as tensions mount between the United States and Europe after a row over measures to impose sanctions on Iran

The focus will be on access to sites thought to be from the early 2000s. Iran maintains the IAEA inspectors have no legal basis to inspect the sites.

It will be Grossi's first visit to Iran since he took office in December.

“My objective is that my meetings in Tehran will lead to concrete progress in addressing the outstanding questions that the Agency has related to safeguards in Iran and, in particular, to resolve the issue of access,” Grossi said in a statement.

“I also hope to establish a fruitful and cooperative channel of direct dialogue with the Iranian government which will be valuable now and in the future.”

The Iranian delegation to international organisations in Vienna tweeted that “we hope this visit will lead to reinforced mutual cooperation.”

How tensions have risen

Iran signed the nuclear deal in 2015 with world powers, called the P5+1 (the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council—the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, and China—plus Germany) and the European Union.

Under the framework, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran would get nuclear-related economic sanctions relief in exchange for reducing its nuclear facilities.

But in 2018 the deal collapsed after US President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the country out of the nuclear agreement and reinstated economic sanctions.

The Trump administration wants Iran to renegotiate a new deal that would stop Iran developing ballistic missiles and put indefinite curbs on its nuclear programme.

Last week the US started a process at the UN Security Council to reinstate the UN sanctions, arguing that Iran is in non-compliance and invoking a provision of the nuclear deal to “snap back” even more sanctions.

'Align with the ayatollahs'

But the other countries involved in the deal — France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China — have been struggling to keep it alive.

They declared the US action illegal, arguing it is impossible to withdraw from a deal and then use the resolution that endorsed it to re-impose sanctions.

The tone rose at the UN on Thursday, with US secretary of state Mike Pompeo going so far as to accuse France, the UK and Germany of "choosing to align with the ayatollahs" in power in the Islamic Republic.

The five nations and Iran are due to meet in Vienna on September 1.

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