A picture taken on November 10, 2019, shows an Iranian flag in Iran’s Bushehr nuclear power plant, during an official ceremony to kick-start works on a second reactor at the facility.
ATTA KENARE | AFP via Getty Images
Fragile measures to monitor Iran’s nuclear activity that were established by the U.N.’s atomic energy watchdog are becoming undone, its director-general warned.
“Stop-gap” measures agreed to in February to prevent the total disintegration of a monitoring deal between Tehran and the International Atomic Energy Agency are no longer “intact,” IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said in an interview with the Financial Times published Tuesday. Specifically, Iran is no longer allowing surveillance cameras to record at its Tesa Karaj facility west of Tehran, which manufactures centrifuge parts.
Grossi said he urgently needed to speak to Iran’s new foreign minister to revive this aspect of the agreement — an agreement which is seen as vital to propping up the beleaguered 2015 Iranian nuclear deal and enabling continued negotiations between Tehran and the West.
“I haven’t been able to talk to [Iran’s] foreign minister,” Grossi told the Financial Times. “I need to have this contact at the political level. This is indispensable. Without it, we cannot understand each other.”
Indirect talks between the Biden administration and Iran and mediated by foreign intermediaries have stalled since the June election of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, who is vocally anti-Western and has called U.S. sanctions “crimes against humanity.”
Spearheaded by the Obama administration and known formally as the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), the nuclear deal signed between Iran, the U.S., China, Russia and several European powers in 2015 lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs to its nuclear program. It has steadily disintegrated since former President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, reimposing heavy sanctions that crippled Iran’s economy and subsequently led Iran to make gradual violations of the deal like enriching more uranium and at a higher level than allowed under the agreement.
Now, Grossi says that Iran is “within a few months” of having enough material to build a nuclear bomb, though he has not suggested the country will use it for that purpose. Tehran maintains that its program is only for peaceful applications.
This breakout time, Grossi said, “is becoming shorter and shorter,” saying that he wanted surveillance cameras to be reinstalled at Tesa Karaj “yesterday.”
The IAEA managed to secure a last-minute agreement in February with Iranian authorities to allow its monitoring of key nuclear facilities to continue, though it gave their inspectors less access. The stop-gap deal was reached just before the expiration of a deadline set by Tehran that could have seen nuclear inspectors expelled from the country. It was spurred on by emergency talks that took place in Tehran after Iran said that nuclear inspections would be suspended unless it gets urgent sanctions relief.
That relief is still yet to come, but many analysts believe that Iran still favors a return to the deal as it is desperate for sanctions relief and will not achieve that without U.S. approval.
The State Department said Monday that it wanted negotiations to restart “as soon as possible,” adding that the White House had “made clear that if diplomacy fails we are prepared to turn to other options.” It did not elaborate on what those other options were.
Iran’s steady reduction of compliance to the JCPOA has included increasing uranium stockpiling and enrichment levels far beyond the parameters set out in the JCPOA and to a level that many in the international community say is alarming.
Tehran insists that its moves are within its sovereign rights and that they can be reversed if the U.S. lifts sanctions. Meanwhile, the Biden administration says it is ready to return to the negotiating table, but will only lift sanctions if Iran reverses its JCPOA breaches first.
Raisi said on Iranian TV this week that he was “serious” about returning to the negotiations. But he added that “[Talks] . . . must bear results for the Islamic republic. The readiness of the other parties for lifting of sanctions can be regarded as a sign of their seriousness.”