Deal with Iran key to full inspections: UN atomic watchdog

BERLIN (AP) — A temporary agreement with Iran to allow United Nations inspectors continued access to the country’s atomic facilities is less comprehensive than before, but lays the groundwork for the return to full verification measures if and when Tehran allows it, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said yesterday.

Iran began restricting international inspections last week, but under a last-minute deal worked out during a trip to Tehran by head of the Vienna-based United Nations (UN) atomic watchdog Rafael Grossi, some access was preserved.

Under the agreement, Iran will no longer share surveillance footage of its nuclear facilities with the IAEA but it has promised to preserve the tapes for three months. It will then hand them over to the IAEA if it is granted sanctions relief. Otherwise, Iran has vowed to erase the tapes, narrowing the window for a diplomatic breakthrough.

Speaking to reporters after adressing member nations, Grossi said the deal meant inspectors could still keep track of the quantity of enriched uranium, for example, but have lost their view of other activities such as Iran’s mining operations and its research and development.

That means they’re not able to form as complete a picture of Iran’s nuclear programme, Grossi suggested.

Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Mariano Grossi (R) speaks with spokesman of Iran’s atomic agency Behrouz Kamalvandi upon his arrival at Tehran’s Imam Khomeini airport, Iran on February 20. PHOTO: AP

“With a nuclear programme which has the breadth and depth of the Iranian one — complex, big, sophisticated — we need everything,” he said.

Inspections are a critical part of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

Since United States (US) President Donald Trump pulled the US unilaterally out of the deal in 2018, Iran has been slowly increasing its violation of the pact by enriching more uranium than allowed, and to a greater purity than allowed, among other things.

The violations have been intended to put pressure on the other signatories to the deal — Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — to come up with ways to offset the economic devastation caused by American sanctions, but so far they have not been able to come up with a solution suitable to Iran.

US President Joe Biden has said he is ready to join talks with Iran and world powers to discuss a return to the deal. The new restrictions on inspections complicate matters, and, in effect, set the clock ticking on coming up with some sort of a resolution.

In his address, Grossi told member nations that more than just allowing sufficient inspections to continue, the access agreed under the “temporary bilateral technical understanding” he reached with Iran provides his teams with the continuity necessary to resume full inspections later if there is a new agreement.

“I want to emphasise that it is a temporary technical understanding and that it is compatible with Iranian law,” Grossi said, according to prepared remarks provided by the IAEA, “It is to enable the Agency to resume its full verification and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA if and when Iran resumes its implementation of those commitments.”