International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi attends a press conference upon his arrival from Iran at Vienna International Airport in Schwechat, Austria, May 7, 2024.

IAEA Still Discussing Implementation of Failed 2023 Agreement With Iran

Tuesday, 05/07/2024

Just back to Austria from Iran, the head of UN’s nuclear watchdog, Rafael Grossi, said he did not seal any deal but discussed possible steps to implement measures Tehran had committed to in a joint statement last year.

During Grossi’s last visit to Iran in March last year, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Iranian government agreed on a statement on how Tehran can increase cooperation with the IAEA. Despite Tehran's sweeping assurances to the UN nuclear watchdog, little progress was made.

Iran committed to cooperating with a long-stalled investigation into discovering uranium particles at undeclared sites and reinstalling removed monitoring equipment. However, IAEA reports to member states indicated that these assurances did not translate into significant actions.

Amidst intense media questioning, Grossi explained his two-day visit to Iran: “My intention was twofold, to re-engage, to have a serious conversation, and to start analyzing a number of concrete proposals that could fit into the different areas that this joint statement covers.”
“There is this expectation that there will be a touch of a magic wand. And we will solve issues. I'm sorry, it's impossible,” he told the press conference.

Without going into the details of Iran’s and IAEA’s expectations, Grossi confirmed that lifting sanctions is one of Iran's demands to cooperate with the agency but that he is: “not the one who has the key to solving these issues” because those problems are outside the scope of his responsibilities.

Hours before Grossi returned to Vienna, he also held a news conference with Iran's atomic chief, Mohammad Eslami, who called the talks “positive and productive.”

Director General Rafael Grossi of the International Atomic Energy Organization, IAEA, left, and head of Iran's atomic energy department Mohammad Eslami

Iran's apparent satisfaction with IAEA visits, while failing to keep any promises, is becoming so repetitive that a journalist asked Grossi whether Iran was selling him the same horse again.

Since the end of November, Iran has been enriching uranium to a purity of up to 60%, which is close to around 90% of weapons-grade uranium. The IAEA estimates that this material could be used to make two nuclear weapons if it were enriched further.

Iran has also hindered the IAEA's ability to perform its duties. The IAEA faces numerous challenges, including Tehran's failure to explain uranium traces discovered at undeclared sites and its exclusion of almost all its top enrichment experts.

However, this isn't the first time Iran has enriched uranium to this level. In April 2021, Iran, as a first, began enriching uranium to this level - its highest purity ever and a technical improvement.

Under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed in 2015 between Iran, China, France, Russia, the UK, the US, and Germany, Tehran curbed its nuclear program in return for lifting international sanctions.

Iran gradually began to move beyond the nuclear restrictions of the JCPOA after former US president Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and reimposed sanctions that crippled its economy.

As part of his criticisms of the deal, Trump stated that it wasn't permanent; the restrictions on Iran's nuclear program began to relax about ten years after the agreement was signed (although the commitment not to develop nuclear weapons is permanent). Moreover, the deal did not address Iran's other problematic activities, including its development of ballistic missiles and its support for violent militias in the region.

After Joe Biden defeated Trump in the 2020 US presidential election, he attempted to revive the deal through indirect negotiations in Vienna, but without any significant success, except a short-lived slowdown of Iran’s enrichment in May last year. That was when the Biden administration, through a Qatar-mediated deal, swapped five detainees with Iran and released $6 billion of Tehran's funds in South Korea.

The Biden administration's cautious stance on Iran casts doubt on the strength of the IAEA's position regarding Iran's unfulfilled promises, as Tehran continues to enrich Uranium at high levels and refuses to cooperate with international measures to curb its nuclear activity.

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