Politics

Nuclear monitoring in Iran 'seriously undermined' by inspection suspension

By Al-Mashareq and AFP

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Kazem Gharib Abadi, Iran's governor to the International Atomic Energy Agency, and Abbas Araghchi, political deputy at the Iranian Foreign Ministry, leave the Grand Hotel Wien after closed-door nuclear talks in Vienna on June 20, where diplomats of Britain, the EU, China, Russia and Iran held their talks. [Joe Klamar/AFP]

The United Nations' nuclear watchdog on Tuesday (September 7) said its monitoring tasks in Iran had been "seriously undermined" after Tehran suspended some of the agency's inspections of the country's nuclear activities.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report came as US special envoy for Iran Robert Malley and a small delegation prepared to head to Moscow and Paris from September 7 to 10 for consultations with Russian and European partners on Iran's nuclear programme.

The delegation will address the need to quickly reach and implement an understanding on a mutual return to compliance with the 2015 nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

In February, Iran suspended some IAEA inspections in response to the United States' refusal to lift sanctions and also limited IAEA access to monitoring equipment such as cameras.

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The International Atomic Energy Agency headquarters in Vienna, seen here on May 23, released a strongly worded report September 7 saying its monitoring tasks in Iran had been 'seriously undermined' after Tehran suspended some inspections of its nuclear activities. [Alex Halada/AFP]

Initially, Iran reached a temporary agreement with the IAEA under which it committed to preserving recordings from this equipment with a view to eventually handing them over to the UN nuclear watchdog.

However, that agreement ran out on June 24 and Iran "has failed to engage with the Agency at all on this matter for a number of months", according to the report.

"Since 23 February 2021, the Agency's verification and monitoring activities have been seriously undermined as a result of Iran's decision to stop the implementation of its nuclear-related commitments", the report said.

A diplomatic source pointed out that the equipment was normally serviced every three months and that by now there would be a question over whether all the systems were "still operational".

According to the report, one of the cameras at a centrifuge component workshop at the city of Karaj was destroyed and another "severely damaged".

Iranian state television and Tasnim news agency reported in June that a "sabotage operation" had been thwarted at a building near Karaj belonging to the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran.

'Not ready to talk'

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi has said he was available to go to Iran to meet the government of new ultra-conservative President Ebrahim Raisi.

However, no such visit has taken place, with one diplomatic source saying Iran was seemingly "not ready to talk" to the IAEA.

The IAEA said its confidence "that it can maintain continuity of knowledge is declining over time and has now significantly further declined" and the situation must be "immediately rectified by Iran".

The report added that Iran had boosted its stocks of uranium enriched above the levels allowed in the 2015 deal.

Under the deal, Iran was not meant to enrich uranium above 3.67%, well below the 90% threshold needed for use in a nuclear weapon.

In addition, it was only meant to have a stockpile of 202.8kg in total, equivalent to 300kg in a particular compound form.

Yet the report estimates that Iran now has 2,441.3kg.

Of that amount, 84.3kg is uranium enriched to 20% (up from 62.8kg when the IAEA last reported in May); as well as 10kg that is enriched up to 60% (up from 2.4kg).

Suspended talks

The latest report comes as efforts to revive the 2015 deal remain stalled.

Iran started enriching uranium up to 60% in April after an explosion at the Natanz nuclear plant damaged centrifuges.

In his first televised interview after becoming president, Raisi Saturday said that returning to the JCPOA is on his administration's agenda but it must not happen "under pressure".

He said that through the negotiations, Iran seeks to obtain the lifting of all sanctions.

US President Joe Biden has said he wants to reintegrate Washington into the pact, but talks in Vienna that began in April have stalled since Raisi won Iran's presidential election in June.

On Tuesday, new Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian suggested that the Vienna talks would not resume for two or three months.

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