Iran took up half of a BBC Hardtalk interview broadcast Tuesday with Rafael Mariano Grossi, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Pressed by interviewer Zeinab Badawi, Grossi defended the value of on-going inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites despite criticism from the IAEA, the United States, and Europe of Tehran limiting agency access, particularly to the Karaj workshop where centrifuges – devices for enriching uranium – are made.
Grossi said he would soon return to Tehran for further discussions, where he hoped to “get to know” and “sit down with” either new president Ebrahim Raisi (Raeesi) or new foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.
Despite disagreement over Karaj, Grossi said the agency remained an essential international presence both in “regular” monitoring under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and under a temporary arrangement that Grossi agreed in February after Tehran decided to scale back the agency’s access.
The IAEA, he said, still had “indispensable monitoring and verification capabilities that would allow us to store and to keep very important information in terms of uranium enrichment…[and] the production of centrifuges.”
While Iran has allowed the IAEA to service equipment in other sites, under the February arrangement renewed on September 12, it barred this in Karaj on September 16, due Tehran says to continuing security investigations at the facility after a drone attack in June.
Grossi stressed to Hardtalk the link between continuing agency inspections and efforts in Vienna talks to revive Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). “We are the guarantors…of whatever is agreed,” he noted.
IAEA monitoring offered, he said “a full picture as can be obtained under the circumstances” with “no interruption.” With a “vast” inspection effort, Grossi said, “we are present at all the facilities that Iran has, we have inspections every day of the year.”
In 2019, the year after former US president Donald Trump left the JCPOA and imposed ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions, Iran began expanding its nuclear program, including enriching uranium to 60 percent, far above the 3.67 percent allowed under the JCPOA, and this year scaled back IAEA monitoring to that required under the NPT and that agreed in February.
The last detail
“What makes the present moment so important…is that if we were to be limited in the scope, in the access, that we have to Iran, then we would start losing ground and start losing the capability to know exactly what is happening to the last detail,” Grossi told Hardtalk. “[We now know] by the gram how much uranium enrichment is taking place.”
Asked why he apparently failed to convince some regional leaders over his efforts – the BBC’s Badawi cited Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett saying Iran was crossing ‘red lines’ – Grossi said there was a “political” view that “Iran having capabilities in the nuclear area is a danger in itself.”
This was not however the basis of the JCPOA, Grossi noted, under which signatories agreed to Iran conducting a nuclear program within prescribed limits.
Grossi insisted he would continue to call on Iran to abide by the September 12 agreement, including servicing equipment at Karaj. He said Iran had agreed that he would return “very soon” to Tehran to continue discussions.
Noting that the new Raisi administration had “firm views” on the nuclear program, Grossi concluded: “We need to get to know each other. I need to sit down with them. I want to listen to them, and I hope they would also listen to me.”