Feb 21, 2021 - World

UN nuclear watchdog reaches temporary agreement with Iran on inspections

The head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi.

The head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi. Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reached an agreement with Iran that allows UN inspectors to continue necessary verification and monitoring of Iran’s nuclear facilities for up to 3 months.

Why it matters: The understanding buys more time for more diplomacy between the U.S. and Iran. The Biden administration announced last week it was formally ready to meet with Iran and other world leaders and discuss ways to reinstate the 2015 nuclear deal.

 The big picture: According to a law passed by the Iranian parliament, Iran was supposed to start limiting UN inspectors' access to nuclear facilities starting Tuesday.

  • The Iranian law passed as part of the retaliation to the assassination of senior Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
  • The law said that Iran should suspend its implementation of the “additional protocol” to the nuclear non proliferation treaty, which allows UN inspectors to make unannounced visits to declared or undeclared nuclear sites and enhances their ability to monitor Iran’s nuclear program.
  • In recent days the Iranians threatened to take even more extreme steps like cutting off the video feed from the cameras in their nuclear sites which UN inspectors use to monitor them.

Driving the news: IAEA head Raphael Grossi visited Tehran on Sunday for talks with the head of Iran atomic energy organization Ali Akbar Salehi, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani.

  • At a press conference after arriving back in Vienna, Grossi said Iran will proceed to implement the law but will take steps to temporarily mitigate it.
  • Grossi said Iran will continues to implement “fully and without limitation” its commitments regarding the work of the UN inspectors in a way the will be “compatible with the law” for another three months.
  • Grossi added that UN inspectors will have less access to Iran’s nuclear program than before but stressed it will still be satisfactory.

Details: Iran's atomic energy organization issued a statement detailing the agreement: UN inspectors will continue to have regular access to uranium enrichment facilities, "no extra-supervisory access will be granted to the IAEA and no extra-supervisory inspections will be conducted". 

  • The law states IAEA will not have access to footage from cameras in several nuclear sites that are not uranium enrichment facilities. Iran and the IAEA agreed that for 3 months Iran will record and retain the footage.
  • During this period, the IAEA will have no access to this information and the information will remain exclusively with Iran. If the sanctions are lifted completely within 3 months, Iran will provide this information to the IAEA, otherwise the information will be deleted forever.

What they are saying: Grossi stressed the agreement reached with the Iranians will ensure UN inspectors do "not fly blind” when they monitor Iran’s nuclear facilities.

  • Grossi said the temporary understanding both prevented a crisis and bought more time for a political agreement between Iran and the world powers on the nuclear deal.
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