Hours after they met in Tehran, Mohammad Eslami (head of the civilian Atomic Energy Organization of Iran) and Rafael Mariano Grossi (International Atomic Energy) issued a joint statement.
The IAEA is expected to reach a conclusion by June on the discovery of uranium particle at Iran's former undeclared sites. This move is not part of the negotiations over the nuclear agreement, but it could push them towards a conclusion.
In the meantime, Russia's foreign ministry linked US sanctions against Moscow for its war on Ukraine with the ongoing Iran nuclear agreement talks -- adding another wrinkle to delicate diplomacy.
Grossi stated in Tehran that it would be difficult to believe that Iran could make such an important return towards a comprehensive agreement. If Iran and the agency don't see eye to eye on how to solve these important safeguard issues, then safeguards are the IAEA's inspections of nuclear programs and monitoring.
Grossi has been asking Iran for years to answer questions regarding man-made uranium particle discovery at previously undeclared nuclear sites. The IAEA, Western nations, and U.S intelligence agencies all claim that Iran had an organized nuclear weapons program up to 2003. Iran long has denied ever seeking nuclear weapons.
Eslami stated that the men reached an "agreement" in which Iran would "present documents that would remove any ambiguities about its country." However, he did not specify what documents they would be discussing.
In a joint statement, Eslami stated that Eslami's agency would by March 20 provide the U.N. nuclear watchdog written explanations and supporting documents to questions raised by IAEA. Iran has not addressed the issues related to three locations.
The IAEA will review the information within two weeks and submit any questions. Within a week, the two agencies will meet at Tehran to address these questions.
Grossi will then try to report his conclusions before the IAEA board meets in June.
Grossi stated that it "may or might not happen" depending on Iran's cooperation. Grossi said that the conclusions could take different directions and be finalized or partial.
Grossi stated that the safeguards issues would not be solved politically, because he will not pursue it.
He stated that there was no artificial deadline, no predetermined outcome and no predefined name for the work he would do.
In exchange for lifting severe economic sanctions, Iran agreed to significantly reduce its enrichment of Uranium. However, the unilateral withdrawal of America from the nuclear agreement by Donald Trump in 2018 sparked tensions and attacks for years across the Mideast.
Iran enriches uranium to 60% purity today -- a significant technical leap from weapons-grade levels at 90% and much higher than the 3.67% limit in the nuclear agreement. Iran's stockpile is growing, which worries nuclear nonproliferation specialists. This means that Iran may be closer to the threshold for having enough material to make an atomic weapon if they choose to pursue it.
The initial 2015 agreement also included undeclared sites. That year the IAEA's then-director-general went to Tehran and visited one suspected weapons-program site at Parchin. There were samples taken by inspectors for analysis.
Grossi's inspectors face difficulties in monitoring Iran's civilian program advancements. Since February 2021 Iran has kept IAEA surveillance camera recordings, which have been hidden from inspectors during the nuclear negotiations.
Negotiators in Vienna seem to indicate that a deal may be near even though Russia's war with Ukraine continues. The Russian ambassador Mikhail Ulyanov, who was a key mediator during the talks, tweeted Thursday that negotiations were "almost finished". Philippe Errera, French negotiator, also acknowledged this.
Errera tweeted Friday that "We hope we can come back quickly and conclude because we're very, very close" "But nothing can be agreed until EVERYTHING has been agreed!"
However, Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, made Saturday's first comments suggesting that the Ukraine war and the harsh sanctions that have been imposed on Moscow could be interfering.
According to the Tass news agency, Lavrov stated that "we need assurances these sanctions will not in any way affect the trading economic and investment relationships contained in the (deal for the Iranian nuke program"),"
Lavrov stated that he wants "guarantees at minimum at the level of secretary of state" that U.S. sanctions will not adversely affect Moscow's relations with Tehran. Lavrov's remarks did not receive an immediate response from the United States.
On Saturday, Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard revealed what it called two new underground drone and missile bases. State TV reported that the bases were equipped with surface-to-surface missiles as well as armed drones capable "hiding themselves away from enemy radar."