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The head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog has asked Iranian officials for greater access in the Islamic Republic ahead of talks restarting over the tattered nuclear deal with world powers.
Rafael Mariano Grossi of the International Atomic Energy Agency yet again faces tightrope talks with Iranian officials as his inspectors remain unable to access surveillance footage and face greater challenges in trying to monitor Tehran's rapidly growing uranium stockpile.
In the wake of then-President Donald Trump's unilateral withdrawal from Iran's deal, the Islamic Republic now enriches small amounts of uranium up to 60 per cent purity - its highest ever and close to weapons-grade levels of 90 per cent.
While Iran maintains its program is peaceful, regional rival Israel has repeatedly warned it won't allow Tehran to build a nuclear weapon and is suspected of launching attacks targeting its program. The US under President Joe Biden, meanwhile, has said it's willing to return to the deal, but has warned time is running out.
Iran has taken a harder tack ahead of the talks under new President Ebrahim Raisi, a protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
On Tuesday, Grossi went to the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, the country's civilian nuclear agency, for his third-such visit since February and spoke with its new head Mohammad Eslami.
The UN in 2008 sanctioned Eslami for "being engaged in, directly associated with or providing support for Iran's proliferation of sensitive nuclear activities or for the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems."
After their talk, Eslami described the ongoing issues as "technical" and not governed by the "political issues and conspiracies" of Iran's enemies.
Grossi for his part described the talks as "intense" .
Under a confidential agreement with Iran, the IAEA collects and analyses images from a series of surveillance cameras installed at Iranian nuclear sites. Those cameras helped it monitor Tehran's program to see if it is complying with the nuclear deal.
Iran's hard-line parliament in December 2020 approved a bill that would suspend part of UN inspections of its nuclear facilities if European signatories did not provide relief from oil and banking sanctions by February. Since February, the IAEA has been unable to access imagery from those cameras.
Under the deal, the IAEA also placed around 2,000 tamper-proof seals on nuclear material and equipment. Those seals communicated electronically to inspectors. Inspectors haven't been able to access that data, making the task of monitoring Iran's enriched uranium stockpile that much more difficult.
The agency has also sought monitoring of activities at a centrifuge parts production site near northern city of Karaj. The IAEA has had no access there since June after Iran said a sabotage attack by Israel considerably damaged the facility and an IAEA camera there.
In a separate report to IAEA member states earlier this month, the agency said Grossi was concerned about inspectors "being subjected to excessively invasive physical searches by security officials at nuclear facilities in Iran."
Meanwhile in Israel, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett described Iran's nuclear program as being in a "very advanced stage," without providing details. Ahead of the resumption of nuclear talks between global powers and Iran, Bennett said he expects "disagreement with our greatest of friends."
"Either way, even with the return to an agreement, Israel is of course not part of the agreement. Israel is not bound by it," he told a security conference in Herzliya. "We will maintain our freedom to act."