Saturday’s statement from Iran’s atomic chief and the UN nuclear watchdog head seems to have cleared an obstacle in the way of renewing the 2015 nuclear deal.

Rafael Mariano Gross, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and Mohammad Eslami, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, expressed agreement that Iran would by March 21 provide written answers to the agency over “outstanding issues” in Iran’s nuclear program.

But Grossi made it clear that the implementation of a new nuclear agreement would depend on Iran's satisfactory cooperation with IAEA>

There had been reports over the past week that Tehran’s failure to satisfy the IAEA over the issues relating to secret nuclear work carried out before 2003 – might derail talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action). There had been speculation that Iran had demanded as a condition for agreement in Vienna that the IAEA drop these enquiries.

But with many participants saying talks are at a closing stage, the timeline agreed in Tehran Saturday by Grossi and Eslami − whatever informal understandings the two may have reached − suggests JCPOA restoration does not depend on the agency first being satisfied with Iran over the “outstanding issues.”

Written Explanations

The Grossi-Eslami statement agreement stipulates that once Iran provides “written explanations including related supporting documents” by March 21, there would be two weeks for the IAEA to raise questions, and another week for Iran to answer them before further meetings between the IAEA and the AEOI.

Grossi would then report to the IAEA board by June – which presumably explains Eslami’s reference to June made earlier in the day.

Sitting next to Grossi at the Tehran news conference Saturday, Eslami said, according to Reuters, that Iran would resolve “outstanding matters,” and that “we have agreed to provide the IAEA by the end of Khordad [the Iranian month ending June 21] with documents related to outstanding questions between Tehran and the agency.”

While the IAEA would monitor a restored JCPOA – with greater powers of inspections – the agency is not directly involved in the Vienna talks. Its enquiries into Tehran’s pre-2003 nuclear work are part of monitoring Iran’s atomic program under the ‘safeguards’ requirements of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty.

‘Very important safeguards’

But while Iran has said the IAEA’s probe into “outstanding issues” resulted from political pressure, especially from the United States, its failure to satisfy the agency has cast a shadow over the Vienna talks and threatened to complicate the challenges in reviving the JCPOA.

"My impression is that it would be difficult to imagine you can have a cooperative relationship as if nothing had happened if the clarification of very important safeguards were to fail," Grossi told the press conference in Tehran when asked directly how the matter could affect the Vienna talks.

While diplomats in Vienna have said the negotiations have edged nearer agreement, there have been sticking-points in agreeing exactly which US sanctions contravene the JCPOA and exactly how Tehran’s refined and expanded nuclear program might be brought back within JCPOA limits. A further complication came Saturday when Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, suggested Moscow needed assurances that international sanctions over Ukraine would not hamper Russia’s links with Iran, including its co-operation in implementing a restored JCPOA.

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