Iran called Monday on the United Nations nuclear watchdog not to “yield to Israel’s pressure” and said it was willing to continue cooperation with the agency.
Foreign affairs spokesman Nasser Kanaani, speaking at a televised news conference, stressed that Iran had rights as well as “obligations” and called on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to “preserve its credibility.”
The spokesman, however, did not signal an intention on Tehran’s part to resolve the safeguards dispute it has with the IAEA that seems to be derailing talks aimed at restoring the 2015 nuclear agreement.
The IAEA board begins a quarterly meeting Monday three months after it passed in June a resolution, drawn up by the United States and three European states (E3), censuring Iran over failure to satisfy the agency with explanations over uranium traces found in sites not declared as nuclear-related. Many analysts suggest the US and E3 will not move another resolution at the board, partly to maintain hopes over currently paused talks between Iran and world powers aimed at restoring the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
Israel opposed the JCPOA and welcomed President Donald Trump’s 2018 removal of the US from the agreement. Prime Minister Yair Lapid Sunday, leaving on a trip to Berlin, praised the three European states – France, Germany and the United Kingdom – for what he saw as a more assertive approach to Iran in recent weeks. Lapid’s comments, apparently enhanced by off-record briefings, led some of the Israeli media to proclaim the JCPOA dead.
While Israel has not been party to the JCPOA talks, officials in the administration of President Joe Biden have continuously stressed their commitment to consult the Israelis, and the Israeli media has apparently received insider briefings on the talks.
Iran’s charge that the IAEA has lapsed from its ‘technical’ brief into politics draws on Israel’s role in unearthing questions over Iran’s pre-2003 nuclear work, subject of a ‘final’ IAEA report in 2015 shortly after the JCPOA was signed. Allegations made by then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which he said were based on documents purloined in Tehran, led the IAEA to inspections that found the uranium traces. Iranian officials have also highlighted a trip made July by IAEA head Rafael Mariano Grossi to Israel, which is the only country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons and one of four worldwide that have never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty.
But the fact remains that Iran has not given a satisfactory answer to the UN watchdog over its past nuclear activities that could have been geared towards a weapons program. That creates a serious safeguards issue for the IAEA, regardless of Israel being the source of the information that led to the discovery of uranium traces.
Iranian officials up to President Ebrahim Raisi have said Iran will not return its nuclear program to JCPOA limits – which it began exceeding in 2019, the year after the US left the agreement and imposed ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions – until the IAEA probe into the uranium traces ends. The US and the E3 argue that, regardless of the JCPOA talks and whether the 2015 agreement is revived, Tehran has a responsibility under the NPT to explain the uranium and generally to satisfy the agency as to the peaceful nature of its nuclear program.