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Putin, Macron agree to send expert mission to Ukraine nuclear plant

During a phone call on Friday, Emmanuel Macron and Vladimir Putin agreed that a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) should be sent to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant in Ukraine, according to the French president’s office and the Kremlin.

Macron “expressed his support for sending a mission of IAEA experts to the site as quickly as possible,” and Putin “indicated his agreement to the deployment of this mission,” according to a statement from the Elysée. The two leaders’ call was the first time they have spoken since May 28.

The mission would take place “on the basis of a United Nations evaluation, under Ukrainian control. It will not go through Russia, as the Russians first requested,” according to an Elysée official.

The two presidents “will discuss this subject again in the next few days,” the Elysée said, “after the technical teams have exchanged information and before the mission is deployed.”

The six-reactor plant — Europe’s largest — has been under the control of Russian troops since March, but day-to-day operations are carried out by Ukrainian employees under the watch of Russian Rosatom staff also present at the site.

Just two reactors are operating, after shelling earlier this month caused a third to automatically shut down for safety reasons.

The IAEA, the U.N.’s nuclear safety watchdog, has called the situation “very alarming.”

Earlier Friday, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant should not be connected to the Russian power grid.

“Obviously the electricity from Zaporizhzhia is Ukrainian electricity, and it’s necessary, especially during the winter, for the Ukrainian people,” Guterres said, speaking from the Ukrainian port of Odesa. “This principle must be fully respected.”

On Thursday, Guterres called for an IAEA safety mission to Zaporizhzhia and the demilitarization of the plant. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksyy told Guterres he would only agree to such a visit if it were “carried out in a legal way through a territory free from occupiers.”

Putin also told Macron during their phone call that Russia was “facing obstacles” hindering the export of its agricultural products, according to a statement from the Kremlin — a claim that the Elysée has rejected.

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