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Nuclear Talks With Iran Paused After Officials’ Deaths, Says IAEA Chief

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The head of the UN nuclear watchdog says the deaths of Iran’s president and foreign minister in a helicopter crash have caused a pause in nuclear talks with Tehran – just two weeks after the IAEA chief’s visit to Iran for discussions.

“They are in a mourning period which I need to respect,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi said in Helsinki, speaking at a nuclear conference.

It’s not clear when the “mourning period” may end and when the nuclear talks between the agency and Tehran may resume – though Grossi said his hope was that it would be “over in a matter of days.”

President Ebrahim Raisi, who before his death had long maintained an uncompromising stance on nuclear talks, was not involved in meetings with the IAEA head when Grossi visited Iran earlier this month.

The IAEA chief did meet with Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on the second day of his visit.

Grossi’s statement comes just a day after IAEA Chief Rafael Grossi ignited backlash from Iranians, when he opened a nuclear security conference by calling for a moment of silence to “honor” both Raisi and Amir-Abdollahian.

“Our thoughts are with their families and the people of Iran during this difficult time,” Grossi later said on X.

Some Iranians dubbed it an inappropriate statement, made to appease Tehran, which has relentlessly pursued sanctions relief with minimal compromise on its nuclear program.

Others questioned why the IAEA Chief sent condolences to Iranians when reports indicated that many within the country were celebrating the death of the man known as the “Butcher of Tehran” for his involvement in crimes against humanity.

After Grossi’s recent visit to Tehran and Isfahan earlier this month, he said he did not seal any deal but discussed possible steps to implement measures Tehran had committed to in a joint statement last year.

In addition to Raisi’s hard stance on the nuclear issue, backed by the Supreme Leader, talk inside Iran recently floated the notion of abandoning the country’s so-called “fatwa” on nuclear weapons. Grossi previously said that the chatter was “very worrying” and “needs to stop.”

Grossi, who two weeks ago said he wanted to start to see concrete results on improved cooperation from Iran soon, repeated that hope but said a more wide-ranging deal would require “a bit more time”.

The IAEA faces numerous challenges regarding Iran’s nuclear program. Tehran has only implemented a small portion of the commitments outlined in the “Joint Statement” on future cooperation made in March 2023.

The few concrete steps that were taken ceased in June of the previous year, complicating the IAEA’s efforts to ensure compliance and transparency.

While Tehran maintains that its nuclear ambitions are entirely peaceful, the country is enriching uranium to up to 60% purity, close to the 90% of weapons-grade – which no other country has reportedly done without developing nuclear arms.