Mar 2, 2022 - World

Major hurdle still exists as Iran nuclear talks reach finish line

The Iranian flag in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency headquarters in Vienna. Photo: Michael Gruber/Getty Images
The Iranian flag in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency headquarters in Vienna. Photo: Michael Gruber/Getty Images

Officials from the U.S. and its European allies — France, Germany and the U.K. — say they won't comply with Iran’s demand that an investigation into its undeclared nuclear activity be shut down as a condition for a deal.

Why it matters: Iran says the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) probe is politically motivated, but its demand that it be shut down is a major remaining hurdle as the talks approach the finish line.

The backstory: Over the past several years, evidence has surfaced suggesting Iran might have undeclared nuclear material in secret sites around the country.

  • Samples taken by UN inspectors who visited the sites only raised more questions, but Iran has declined to answer them.
  • Israel claims that's evidence that Iran continued to hide parts of its nuclear program after joining the 2015 deal.

Driving the news: Iranian chief negotiator Ali Bagheri returned to Vienna earlier this week after consultations in Tehran for what may be the final days of negotiations.

  • U.S. officials say that although the parties are close to a deal, differences remain, including the IAEA probe issue and Iran's demand that the U.S. remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from its terror blacklist.
  • Washington continues to insist that if a deal isn't reached within a matter of days, there will be no point in continuing negotiations.

What they're saying: A senior Biden administration official told me that it was impossible for anyone other than IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi to determine that open investigations had been resolved.

  • Grossi said Wednesday that his agency will never stop a process that it launched for "political reasons."
  • U.K. negotiator Stephanie Al-Qaq tweeted that the European powers will always reject any attempt to compromise IAEA independence.
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