IAEA chief says it’s getting harder to extend inspections agreement with Iran amid JCPOA talks

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, speaks to journalists after the IAEA Board of Governors meeting at the agency's headquarters in Vienna, Austria, on June 7, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says it is getting increasingly harder to further extend a deal that the agency originally clinched with Iran in February to monitor the country’s peaceful nuclear activities, which expires on June 24 after its first extension.

Rafael Grossi made the remarks in a press conference at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna on Monday.

On May 24, Iran and the IAEA agreed to extend by one month the agreement they had clinched for the UN nuclear agency to continue inspection of the country's nuclear sites while the ongoing talks in Vienna on the revival of the landmark nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers continue.

The agreement was first reached in February when Iran and the IAEA agreed to a technical understanding under which Iran would continue to keep the camera footage at its nuclear sites for up to three months in a goodwill gesture in support of diplomacy, waiting to see whether the other parties to the JCPOA could manage to bring the US back into full compliance with the deal.

This came after Iran halted its voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that allowed the IAEA to carry short-notice inspections at its nuclear sites.

In addition to the deal's extension, Iran also agreed not to erase information collected so far by agency equipment in the country.

"I think it's becoming increasingly difficult," Grossi said in his Monday interview when asked how likely it is that the two sides will again extend the agreement later this month.

Grossi confirmed that there have been meetings, and that the Iranian side "has reiterated its will to engage and to cooperate and to provide answers."

“But so far they haven't done that,” Grossi claimed, hoping that this might change, adding, "But as we speak, we haven't had any concrete progress on any of the issues."

Asked about a letter written to the IAEA by Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) Ali Akbar Salehi in early June, Grossi said, “Iran does not tell us that they don’t want to engage, that they don’t want to talk.”

He added, “My hope is that these expressions of goodwill will be substantiated and be underpinned by concrete deliverables, so to speak.”

He also reflected on the course of the ongoing talks between Iran and the remaining parties to the 2015 landmark nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in Vienna, saying, “My impression is that ... they are moving into a decisive phase of these talks.... The agency will be there to support them as it has been for all this time.”

Grossi hoped that by "wider general agreement that's being worked on downtown or by some other means, we are not going to see our... inspection capacities curtailed any more."

In May 2018 and under former President Donald Trump, the United States withdrew from the landmark nuclear deal, which was signed by Iran and major world powers in 2015. Trump also initiated a “maximum pressure” policy against Iran, prompting Tehran to take remedial measures by gradually reducing its nuclear commitments under the deal.

President Joe Biden has said Washington is willing to return to the pact if Tehran first suspends its countermeasures.

Iran has insisted that it would observe its commitments only after the US removed all the sanctions in one step, and Tehran could verify the removal.

Since April, representatives from Iran and the P4+1 group of countries – Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China – have been engaged in talks in the Austrian capital aimed at revitalizing the JCPOA and bringing Washington back to compliance.

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