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IAEA chief stresses urgency of Iran deal revival amid US procrastination

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi (file photo)

The head of the UN nuclear watchdog has underscored the urgency of resuming negotiations to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, warning that the situation could quickly worsen if the stalled talks fail.

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said on Tuesday that the diplomatic effort to resuscitate the nuclear deal, or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), “is not at its best point,” but progress is "not impossible".

“I hope to be able to re-set, restore, reinforce that indispensable dialogue,” he said during a discussion at the London-based Chatham House think tank. “Without that, things are going to get worse.”

The talks to salvage the JCPOA kicked off in the Austrian capital of Vienna in April 2021, three years after the United States, under Donald Trump, unilaterally withdrew from the deal and slapped draconian sanctions as part of the so-called “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran.

The negotiations, which kicked off under the Biden administration, have been at a standstill since August last year due to Washington’s insistence on its hard-nosed position of not removing all the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration.

Iran, whose strict adherence to the deal had been certified several times by the IAEA, maintains that it is necessary for the US to offer guarantees that it will not withdraw or violate the agreement again. The US has refused, complicating the prospects of the talks.

Grossi further said that in spite of the standoff in the talks, he remained optimistic about progress.

“I wouldn’t despair in the sense that the JCPOA cannot be revived,” he said.

“I’m not saying yes JCPOA [or] no JCPOA. The important thing is to keep the non-proliferation rule strongly in place, and so we will see,” he said. “The next few weeks and months will be crucial to determine whether there is a possibility.”

Last month, Grossi warned that Iran had enough highly enriched uranium to build “several” nuclear weapons if it chose to do so. “One thing is true: They have amassed enough nuclear material for several nuclear weapons, not one at this point,” he claimed.

Iran has time and again rejected accusations of seeking to develop nuclear weapons. The country is an abiding member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), has agreed to put certain limits on its nuclear program by signing the JCPOA, and has allowed unprecedented levels of inspections by the IAEA to reassure the world that it is not after nuclear weapons.

Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei has also issued a fatwa (religious decree) declaring that the acquisition, development, and use of nuclear weapons violate Islamic principles and are therefore forbidden.

Nevertheless, Israel and Western countries, especially the United States, have throughout the years leveled unfounded allegations against Iran’s peaceful nuclear program. The accusations, Iran argues, have also had an impact on the IAEA’s statements on the country.

Elsewhere in his remarks, Grossi expressed regret about the leakage of confidential information on Iran’s Fordow nuclear facility, saying the agency does not have the means to control and follow up on the issue.

He said the agency has “rigorous measures” to protect classified reports but described controlling the flow of information as “challenging” and “impossible.”

“We are concerned, we prepare these reports for the members (of the Board of Governors), what happens after that can be unfortunate,” he said.

In a confidential report published last Wednesday, Grossi accused Iran of making an undeclared change to the interconnection between the two clusters of advanced machines enriching uranium to up to 60% purity at its Fordow plant.

The accusation came despite a letter sent by Iran to the IAEA back in November, informing the agency of a decision to start enriching uranium to the purity level of 60% at its Fordow nuclear facility.

In an interview with Iran’s state TV on Friday, Iran’s nuclear chief warned that the IAEA chief’s “unprofessional and unacceptable” behavior would harm his reputation and that of the agency.

Iran and the IAEA are currently in a dispute triggered by the agency’s Israeli-influenced accusations, which were leveled against Tehran’s peaceful nuclear activities just as the Islamic Republic and other parties to the Iran deal appeared close to an agreement on reviving the JCPOA.

Iran says an agreement on the revival of the nuclear deal hinges on the settlement of Safeguards issues between Tehran and the IAEA, and that without settling those issues, reviving the 2015 deal would make no sense.

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