The head of the U.N. atomic watchdog agency and top Iranian officials announced they reached an agreement on Sunday for international inspectors to start being provided with reduced access to Tehran’s nuclear program.
The agreement was made public in a brief joint statement from Rafael Mariano Grossi, director-general of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, along with Iran’s Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri and Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, or AEOI.
Though the statement “recalled and reaffirmed the spirit of cooperation and enhanced mutual trust” between the parties, AEOI said that as of next Tuesday it “will stop the implementation of the voluntary measures” under the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, and IAEA “will continue with its necessary verification and monitoring activities for up to three months.”
Grossi told journalists in Vienna upon his return from a two-day trip to Iran that he hopes this “temporary, bilateral, technical understanding” for IAEA monitoring will “stabilize a situation which was very unstable.”
He expressed regret Iranian law required the suspension of some monitoring provisions, but emphasized that was the reason for his trip: to reach a bilateral deal “that will allow us to bridge this period” of relative uncertainty. IAEA has been receiving hundreds of thousands of images a day from surveillance cameras until now, but Iran’s new law requires it to stop sharing that recorded footage.
“There is less access, let’s face it. Let’s face it. There is less access. But still we were able to retain the necessary degree of monitoring and verification work for what it is as it’s been defined,” he said. “This is why I emphasize so much that this is not a replacement for what we used to have. This is a temporary solution that allows us to continue to give to the world assurances of what is going on there, in the hope that we can return to a fuller picture.”
— IAEA – International Atomic Energy Agency (@iaeaorg) February 21, 2021
‘Diplomacy is the best way’
The International Court of Justice ruled earlier this month that it will hear Iran’s case challenging the U.S. economic sanctions reimposed by the former Trump administration in 2018. Iran claimed in its suit that the sanctions breached the little-known U.S.-Iran Treaty of Amity on economic and consular ties that was signed at Tehran in 1955 and entered into force in 1957.
Iran brought the case to ICJ in July 2018, soon after former U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he would pull the United States from the JCPOA. Trump also threatened sanctions against other nations that refused to cut off imports of Iranian oil.
The nuclear deal lifted crippling U.N.-authorized economic sanctions on Iran and imposed enforceable limits on its nuclear program. Initially it included the Security Council’s five permanent, veto-wielding members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany and the European Union.
Since taking office on January 20, U.S. President Joe Biden has sought to restore diplomacy with Iran and constraints on its nuclear program. Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday that Biden is willing to negotiate with Iran on a return to the nuclear deal.
“First, Joe Biden is intent, determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Second, he believes that hardheaded, clear-eyed diplomacy is the best way to do that. And so he’s prepared to go to the table to talk to the Iranians about how we get strict constraints back on their nuclear program,” Sullivan said. “That offer still stands because we believe diplomacy is the best way to do it.”
But Biden’s efforts to revive the JCPOA are getting the cold shoulder from Tehran. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who helped negotiate the deal, said on Twitter that “as the offending side, U.S. must take corrective measures” by recommitting to it and fulfilling its legal obligations. “Iran,” he added, “would reciprocate immediately by reversing its remedial measures.”