IAEA's Grossi seeks deal with Iran on nuclear steps 'soon'

IAEA Director General Grossi meets with Head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Mohammad Eslami in Isfahan

By Francois Murphy and Parisa Hafezi

VIENNA (Reuters) -Iran and the U.N. nuclear watchdog will continue talks aimed at ending an impasse on many issues between them and should strike a deal on a package of measures "soon", the watchdog's chief Rafael Grossi said on Tuesday as he returned from an Iran trip.

The International Atomic Energy Agency faces a range of difficulties in Iran, including the fact Tehran only implemented a small fraction of what Grossi thought it committed to in a "Joint Statement" on future cooperation they made in March 2023, and the few concrete steps taken stopped in June of last year.

Speaking to reporters in Isfahan on Tuesday alongside Iran's nuclear chief Mohammad Eslami, Grossi said they were trying to agree on "tangible measures" Iran could now take under that Joint Statement rather than thrashing out a new agreement.

"I certainly expect to start having some concrete results soon," Grossi told an airport news conference upon his return to Vienna.

"I want results and I want them soon. And I think they understand that as well," he said, adding that it "would be good" if an agreement could be reached within a month, in time for the next meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation Board of Governors.

He would not specify the steps being discussed but said they included uranium enrichment and access to facilities. That could be a reference to resuming monitoring of activities introduced by a 2015 deal between Iran and major powers but then scrapped as the deal unravelled after a U.S. pullout in 2018.

They also included addressing Iran's decision last year to ban many of the IAEA's top enrichment experts assigned to the country, he said. A years-long investigation into unexplained uranium traces at undeclared sites was also mentioned.

"We continue interactions over unresolved issues, including issues regarding two sites," Eslami told his news conference with Grossi.

Iran is enriching uranium to up to 60% purity, close to the around 90% of weapons grade. If that material were enriched further, it would suffice for two nuclear weapons, according to an official IAEA yardstick.

Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons but no other state has enriched to that level without producing them.

When asked if Iran was demanding that sanctions be lifted in exchange for nuclear steps, which would be beyond the IAEA's remit and require the involvement of major powers, Grossi said there were political aspects to the discussions.

"The complex aspect about this, is that there are a lot of political things involved. Some of them within my purview, some of them not," he said.

"So when it comes to lifting of sanctions and things like that, which are very important for Iran, I am not the one who has the key to solve these issues," he said.

(Writing by Francois Murphy; Editing by Michael Georgy, William Maclean and Nick Zieminski)