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Iran Says Questions About Suspected Highly Enriched Uranium Are Resolved

(Bloomberg) -- The United Nations atomic watchdog said Iran still needs to explain precisely how uranium particles enriched to just-below weapons grade came to be at one of its fuel facilities, walking back assertions made just hours before by Tehran’s top nuclear official that the issue was settled.

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The International Atomic Energy Agency reported last week that inspectors detected uranium particles enriched to 84% purity in Iran, a potential major new escalation that US officials called worrisome. The Persian Gulf country’s expanding atomic program, along with its closer military collaboration with Russia, has prompted Israel to ponder a potential strike.

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Eslami, claimed earlier on Saturday that “ambiguities have been resolved” over the presence of the particles at its Fordow enrichment plant. But arriving back in Vienna just hours later, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said more work needs to be done.

The IAEA and Iran will convene more technical meetings “very soon” in Tehran to clarify investigators’ questions, Grossi said late Saturday in Vienna.

“Sometimes in this kind of facility there can be oscillations that can be accidental,” he said. “But it can be otherwise. The idea of this process is to determine how it happened.”

Grossi’s visit follows nearly two years of diplomatic efforts, including a flurry of indirect talks between Iran and the US, to resuscitate the 2015 nuclear deal that former US President Donald Trump abandoned in 2018. Iran retaliated by gradually ramping up its nuclear work and restricting surveillance at some of its nuclear facilities.

The IAEA’s 35-member board of governors convenes its quarterly meeting next week in the Austrian capital, with diplomats weighing whether or not to formally censure Iran for its lack of cooperation with monitors.

Grossi was more upbeat over his meeting with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, saying that the conversation resulted in a “marked improvement” in dialog. The Islamic Republic has stonewalled a separate IAEA investigation into particles discovered at three undeclared sites for almost four years.

Iran agreed to give IAEA inspectors more access to people, places and information as well increase the frequency of visits to enrichment facilities, Grossi said. Critically, the Persian Gulf country also pledged to re-install IAEA cameras at some of its nuclear sites.

“The process has been long,” Grossi said. “I have not hidden that for us it has been too long. We have put a tourniquet on the bleeding of information and the continuity of knowledge.”

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