IAEA, Iran signal some progress on access to nuclear programme
The UN nuclear watchdog signalled some progress in talks with Iranian officials in Tehran over access to its expanding programme, yet prospects for reviving the crippled atomic deal are still unclear.
Tehran said International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors would be able to replace the memory cards of surveillance cameras at atomic sites following a “constructive” meeting with the agency’s Director General Rafael Grossi on Sunday.
That stopped short of fully restoring the expanded access for IAEA monitors that Grossi’s been seeking, but may buy envoys time for broader negotiations with world powers aimed at reviving the 2015 nuclear accord.
“Inspectors are permitted to service the identified equipment and replace their storage media which will be kept under the joint IAEA and AEOI seals in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Iran’s nuclear agency and the IAEA said in a a joint statement. “The way and the timing are agreed by the two sides,” it added without giving details.
Iran’s nuclear chief Mohammad Eslami said the old memory cards will remain in Tehran but that cameras will continue to record data with new ones.
The step reduces the likelihood of a formal censure against Iran at an IAEA board of governors meeting that starts on Monday in Vienna. It effectively gives diplomats three more months, until the next board meeting in November, to negotiate revival of the nuclear accord.
Israelis call for sanctions
Israel, which opposed the original nuclear deal, said on Sunday that Iran’s escalating atomic activity should be met with international sanctions.
“The time has come for action,” said Defence Minister Benny Gantz. He added Iran was training foreign militias to use unmanned aerial vehicles, weeks after a deadly drone strike blamed on Tehran targeted an Israeli-managed tanker. Iran has denied being behind that attack and others in regional shipping lanes.
While Iran’s concession is likely to be welcomed by IAEA envoys meeting this week, Tehran still faces possible censure over its failure to cooperate in an IAEA investigation into uranium traces found at several undeclared locations in the country.
Sunday’s IAEA statement didn’t include any progress on that front, and European nations are still holding out the possibility of a rebuke that could eventually send Iran back to the UN Security Council.
Tehran’s government has warned such a move would scuttle any remaining hope of reviving its broader accord with world powers - one that would allow Iran to return to the global oil market. The last round of talks broke down before the election of hardline President Ebrahim Raisi, in June.
Raisi warned the UN watchdog against “confrontation” earlier this month.
2015 deal in tatters
The 2015 agreement unravelled when US President Donald Trump pulled the US out of it three years later and resumed sanctions, leading Tehran to breach limits on its nuclear activity that it had adhered to beforehand.
IAEA inspectors this week reported that Iran had increased its stockpile of enriched uranium close to the levels needed for weapons and was expanding its production capacity.
Iran says its nuclear programme is peaceful, but doubts about its intentions motivated world powers to seek the original nuclear accord.
The Biden administration is interested in reviving the deal, with conditions attached, and together with Europe has been trying to coax Iran back to the table as soon as this month. Informal talks are likely on the sidelines of the IAEA’s general conference the week of September 21.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.