UN nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi attends a press conference during the International Atomic Energy Agency 's (IAEA) 35-nation Board of Governors meeting in Vienna, Austria, September 11, 2023.

Iran Bars Nuclear Inspectors As US Releases $6 Billion

Saturday, 09/16/2023

Iran has withdrawn the designation of several inspectors assigned to conduct verification activities in Iran under the Non-Proliferation Treaty Safeguards Agreement. 

Rafael Grossi, Director General of UN nuclear watchdog, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), made the rare public statement on Saturday amidst the national rallies taking hold in Iran and abroad around the one-year anniversary of the death of Mahsa Amini.

It is the latest move to stonewall inspectors by the Iranian regime, which just recently withdrew the designation of another experienced IAEA inspector for Iran.

“With today’s decision, Iran has effectively removed about one third of the core group of the Agency’s most experienced inspectors designated for Iran,” Grossi said in a statement

“This measure, while formally permitted by the NPT Safeguards Agreement, has been exercised by Iran in a manner that affects in a direct and severe way the ability of the IAEA to conduct effectively its inspections in Iran.”

Grossi strongly condemned Iran's "disproportionate and unprecedented unilateral" decision, saying it will affect the IAEA's verification activities in Iran.

He admitted that it is both “a step in the wrong direction” and “constitutes an unnecessary blow to an already strained relationship between the IAEA and Iran in the implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement”. 

Head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Mohammad Eslami and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi attend a news conference, in Tehran, Iran, March 4, 2023.

In reaction to the IAEA statement, Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman said the country's decision to withdraw the designation of several IAEA inspectors is based on its rights under the Article 9 of Iran-IAEA Safeguards Agreement (INFCIRC/214).

Earlier this week, another meeting of the Board of Governors of the IAEA continued with no effective step to address the questions surrounding Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran is known to have expanded its program significantly since 2018, when the United States unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal – or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

On Wednesday, three signatories of the deal, UK, France, Germany (E3) delivered a joint statement at the IAEA Board of Governors meeting, in which they condemned Iran’s lack of transparency with regards to its nuclear program.

However, despite their emphasis on Iran’s non-compliance, the E3, much like the US, fell short of introducing measures that would ensure Tehran’s cooperation with the IAEA. On the contrary, just in August the Biden administration agreed to release $6 billion of Iran’s funds blocked in South Korea due to US sanctions, in exchange for five US citizens held hostage in Tehran.

In the State Department’s press briefing Wednesday, Spokesperson Matthew Miller refused to comment on why a resolution condemning Iran’s non-cooperation was not introduced at the IAEA meeting. Pressed by a reporter, Miller said the Biden administration would only work with other members “to clearly express that Iran should cooperate fully with the IAEA.”

This was in line with a joint statement delivered to the IAEA Board of Governors meeting on behalf of the US and 62 other member states, including all EU countries, Turkey, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

In January, IAEA inspectors at Fordow detected undeclared centrifuge configuration changes as well as particles of uranium enriched up to 83.7%. In March, Grossi visited Iran and brought back an agreement that was hailed as a breakthrough by both sides but deemed insufficient and non-binding by its critics.

The agreement (or the Joint Statement) stood on the premise that Iran had “expressed its readiness” to “provide further information and access” and “allow the IAEA to implement further appropriate verification and monitoring activities” on a “voluntary” basis.

Six months on, the premise seems to have been shaky at best. According to the IAEA, Iran has accumulated enriched uranium (5-60%) far beyond JCPOA limits

Iran continues enrichment in Fordow, where inspectors detected undeclared particles of uranium enriched at 83.7%.

In Saturday’s statement, Grossi urged the regime to come back to the table. “Without effective cooperation, confidence and trust will continue to be elusive and the agency will not be in a position to discharge effectively its verification mandate in Iran and provide credible assurances that nuclear material and activities in Iran are for peaceful purposes,” he said. 

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