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UN nuclear watchdog chief visits Syria to restart talks

DAMASCUS (Reuters) - U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi said he visited Damascus on Tuesday to restart talks focused on fostering confidence in the peaceful use of atomic energy by Syria.

Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, met with President Bashar al-Assad, who had extended the invitation, and Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad.

"We're ready to start working on reigniting high-level dialogue between the IAEA and Syria, focusing on building confidence in the peaceful use of nuclear energy in Syria," Grossi wrote in a post on X.

Syria's state news agency also reported Grossi's visit.

IAEA inspectors last visited Syria in 2011, the year its civil war began after the government's violent crackdown on street protests against Assad's rule.

They were seeking to revive a stalled IAEA investigation into activity at a site in Syria's eastern desert that U.S. intelligence had deemed to be a nascent, North Korean-designed reactor intended to produce plutonium for atomic weaponry, before Israel bombed it to rubble in 2007.

The Vienna-based IAEA also sought information about other sites that may have been linked to the Deir al-Zor facility.

Syrian authorities have said it was a non-nuclear military site, but the IAEA concluded in 2011 that it was "very likely" to have been a reactor that should have been declared to nuclear non-proliferation inspectors.

(Reporting by Adam Makary; writing by Maya Gebeily; editing by Mark Heinrich)