China expressed opposition Thursday to any resolution condemning Iran at next week’s board meeting of the United Nations atomic watchdog.

A tweet issued by Beijing’s permanent mission to UN bodies in Vienna cited a foreign ministry spokesman opposing “relevant countries’ moves to pressure” Tehran by raising a resolution at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) quarterly board meeting due June 6-10.

Although United States State Department spokesman Ned Price appeared lukewarm over the prospect Wednesday, saying just that discussions with “allies and partners” were underway, the tone changed in the Thursday briefing. Price said, “we can confirm that we plan to join the UK, France, and Germany in seeking a resolution focused on the need for Iran to fully cooperate with the IAEA.”

The US and European states have reportedly held back from such a move over the past year so as not to undermine talks in Vienna aimed at restoring the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).

But recent disclosures from Israel – purporting to show Iran using pilfered IAEA documents to “systematically evade nuclear probes” – have energized critics of the JCPOA and of the US approach. John Bolton, National Security Advisor to President Donald Trump, earlier this week slammed the Biden administration for being “unable or unwilling to admit failure in its humiliating pursuit of America rejoining the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.”

Thursday’s statement from China argued that a “confrontational approach” at the IAEA board meeting would “undermine cooperation” between Iran and the IAEA and “disrupt [the] negotiation process.” Price insisted Wednesday that an agreement on restoring the JCPOA was within reach.

Talks remain on hold

China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the US are all among the 35 members of the IAEA board. Even if a critical resolution passed, it would meet opposition, and would not – as was the case in 2005-6 – be part of a process leading to Iran’s condemnation and sanction at the UN Security Council, where both China and Russia hold vetoes.

Iran has said a recent IAEA report suggesting it had not answered the agency’s questions over the pre-2003 nuclear work did not “reflect the reality of the negotiations between Iran and the IAEA.” Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian reportedly warned Thursday – during a phone call with his Singaporean counterpart Vivian Balakrishnan – that “political interference” in IAEA affairs, meaning a resolution at the board, would be “unconstructive.”

Amir-Abdollahian said the “technical progress” from “a mutually satisfactory agreement” with IAEA chief Rafael Mariano Grossi should not be upset by “a hasty political statement.”

But some analysts have argued that Iran has deliberately played up disagreements with the IAEA, and accelerated its nuclear program, to raise pressure in the Vienna talks. The recent agency report that Iran has 43.3kg (95lb) of uranium enriched to 60 percent, up nearly 10kg (22lb) in three months, clearly illustrated Iran’s growing breaches of the JCPOA, whose limits it began exceeding in 2019 after the US in 2018 left the agreement and imposed ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions.

Both opponents and supporters of the JCPOA argue their arguments are strengthened by Iran accumulating near sufficient highly-enriched uranium to fashion a crude nuclear device. Either way, talks to revive the 2015 deal remain on hold.

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