Iran restricted international inspections of its nuclear facilities since Tuesday, although the agreement reached at the last minute by the UN atomic agency softens the limitation of access and gives time for political negotiations.
This controversial measure to limit the access of inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is part of a law passed by the Iranian Parliament last December with the aim of defending the nuclear rights of Iran and pressure the United States to lift its sanctions.
“Obliged by law, we stopped the voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol. Fully compatible with article 36 of the JCPOA (acronym in English of the nuclear agreement that the Islamic Republic signed in 2015 with six powers) since the violation of EE has not yet stopped. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamad Yavad Zarif wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.
The Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) allows inspectors access without prior notice to any nuclear facility in Iran, civil or military, so its suspension implies a setback to the verification work that the IAEA carried out since the signing of the nuclear pact.
This does not, however, imply the end of all inspections, since those in the scope of the safeguards agreement are maintained.
“The implementation of the law of Parliament does not mean the cessation of Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA … Our cooperation with the IAEA will continue,” said the head of Iranian diplomacy.
Argentine Rafael Grossi (right), head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, visited Tehran this weekend. Photo: AP
Also, this Sunday, Iran and the UN nuclear agency they came to a bilateral technical pact through which the IAEA will continue with the necessary verification and monitoring activities for up to three months.
The IAEA director general, Argentine Rafael Grossi, had affirmed that his organization continues “to be able to maintain the necessary level of vigilance and verification” after talks with Iranian officials in Tehran on Sunday.
Zarif described this arrangement as a “unique diplomatic success” on this day, which aroused criticism from Parliament for considering it a violation of the law, and assured that it shows Iran’s “goodwill”.
He also explained that the agreement implies that the recordings of the development of the nuclear program, which were delivered daily or weekly to the UN agency, will continue to be made, but the images “from now on are not provided to the IAEA.”
If the US withdraws the sanctions within that three-month period, Iran will hand over the tapes with the recordings to the IAEA and, if not, erase all the material.
Although the situation is delicate, at least it allows time for Iran and the new US administration of Joe Biden to reach an understanding that saves the battered pact. The Democratic president affirmed that he is willing to return to the nuclear agreement, from which the government of Donald Trump withdrew in 2018.
Meeting with the United States?
For now, however, Biden clarified that he will not return to the pact until Iran fulfills its obligations., while Tehran demands that Washington take the first step and lift the sanctions.
An image of the entrance to the Natanz nuclear plant, in Iran’s central Isfahan province. Photo: AFP
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated on Monday that his country remains committed to using mainly diplomacy in order to ensure that Iran does not have nuclear weapons: “If Iran returns to strictly comply with the nuclear agreement, we are ready to do the same, “he added.
To try to unblock the situation, the High Representative for Foreign Policy of the European Union (EU), Josep Borrell, proposed that the US attend an informal meeting with Iran and the other signatories of the nuclear pact as a guest (Russia, China, France, United Kingdom and Germany).
This option “is under review” since Washington is no longer a member of the JCPOA since its withdrawal in 2018, said Zarif, who clarified that what is certain is that Iran will not hold a formal meeting with representatives of Washington.
Negotiations with the United States are a controversial issue in Iran, whose supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, prohibited direct dialogue, although there is the option of holding multilateral talks under the nuclear agreement if Washington returns to the pact.
Iran announced in January that it was resuming uranium enrichment to 20%, in violation of the nuclear deal with Western powers. / AFP
Distrust of Washington
Although the Iranian government has denounced that Biden continues with the policy of “maximum pressure” against Iran applied by the previous president Trump, it seems that he harbors some hope, but there are many in Iran who doubt.
“When the United States says that we negotiate, that means that they are not going to fulfill their commitments and are at the same time insulting the negotiations already done” in the past to reach a consensus on the JCPOA, assured analyst Mohamad Marandí, dean of the Faculty of Studies of the World University of Tehran.
Marandí told the EFE agency that if the Americans think that “from now on they can obtain advantages or impose something that goes beyond the JCPOA, they are making a big mistake.”
“Iran will firmly develop its nuclear program and then they will decide if they want to adhere to their commitments or continue to think that they can harass and not comply,” he said.
Regarding the scope of the atomic program, on Monday the supreme leader assured that his country may not limit itself to enriching uranium to 20% and reach a purity of 60%, well above the 3.67% allowed by the JCPOA and close to 90 % needed to make a nuclear bomb.
By Artemis Razmipour, EFE agency