Hitch With IAEA News Briefing Hints At Problems Over Iran Nuclear Access
The postponement of a news conference by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Rafael Mariano Grossi, scheduled for 2pm Vienna-time (noon GMT) Sunday on the agency’s access to Iran’s nuclear sites has highlighted challenges in reviving Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
Earlier in the day, the official Iranian news agency IRNA and Nour, a website close to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), reported a likely “conditional” agreement with the IAEA to replace a three-month arrangement that lapsed on Friday. Iran's state TV also quoted an unnamed official saying that the agreement between the agency and Tehran could be extended "conditionally" for a month.
This three-month arrangement, negotiated by Grossi in February, followed a law passed by parliament restricting inspectors’ access to the minimum under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Grossi persuaded Iran to allow IAEA cameras to continue filming inside atomic sites while gaining access to the footage at the end of the three months if Iran was satisfied with substantive talks in Vienna over reviving the 2015 deal, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action).
Earlier Sunday, parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf (Qalibaf) had stressed his determination to see the law enacted with the agency now denied access to the images and data.
While the revival of the JCPOA does not rest on short-term IAEA access, information on the state of the nuclear program is part-and-parcel of the Vienna talks going on since early April. While the United States administration of President Joe Biden wants to return the US to the JCPOA, which President Donald Trump left in 2018 before imposing draconian sanctions, American and Iranian negotiators have been struggling to agree which US sanctions are incompatible with the JCPOA and to identify which parts of the Iranian nuclear program – expanded and modified since 2019 – violate the 2015 agreement.
Matters are not eased by US-Iran contacts in Vienna being indirect. Formal, delegation-head level meetings of the JCPOA Joint Commission are restricted to remaining JCPOA signatories: China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia and the United Kingdom.
Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, said Sunday that Washington was unconvinced Tehran was “ready and willing to make a decision to do what it has to do” to see US sanctions lifted. “That's the test and we don't yet have an answer," Blinken told ABC News.
With a fifth round of discussions due next week, Blinken reiterated that it was a Biden priority to revive the JCPOA, and that the Vienna talks had helped clarify issues. “The first thing that we need to do is put the nuclear problem back in the box,” he said.
Divisions in Tehran over restricting the nuclear agreement are long-running, predating the JCPOA, but are sharpening with the up-coming June 18 presidential election. President Hassan Rouhani, whose administration reached the agreement in 2015, said Sunday Tehran would continue talks in Vienna “until reaching a final agreement.” Rouhani repeated his claim of last week that the US had agreed in principle to lift sanctions.
Both Rouhani and Ghalibaf have suggested their position is backed by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, whose has last word on important matters of state and has stressed a preference for a consensual approach. While neither Rouhani nor Ghalibaf will be standing in the June 18 election – Rouhani is ineligible for a third consecutive term – others may put forward similar positions in the election.