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As IAEA convenes amid stalled nuclear talks, Iran faces likely censure

Resolution drafted by US and European nations a sign of their growing impatience as diplomats warn window to save deal is closing

The IAEA Headquarters is seen in Vienna on May 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter)
The IAEA Headquarters is seen in Vienna on May 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Florian Schroetter)

Major European countries and the United States are expected to seek to censure Iran when the UN atomic watchdog meets this week amid stalled talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.

The resolution drafted by the United States, Britain, France and Germany is a sign of their growing impatience as diplomats warn the window to save the landmark deal is closing.

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors meets Monday through Friday in Vienna.

If the resolution urging Iran to “cooperate fully” with the IAEA is adopted, it will be the first motion censuring Iran since June 2020.

Talks to revive the accord started in April 2021 with the aim to bring the United States back into the deal and lift sanctions again and get Iran to scale back its stepped-up nuclear program.

The 2015 landmark deal — promising Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs in its nuclear program — started to fall apart in 2018 when then-US president Donald Trump withdrew from it.

Various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, on April 17, 2021. (Screenshot, Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting-IRIB, via AP)

Talks to revive the agreement have stalled in recent months.

The coordinator of the talks, the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell, warned in a tweet this weekend that the possibility of returning to the accord was “shrinking.”

“But we still can do it with an extra effort,” he said.

In a report late last month, the IAEA said it still had questions that were “not clarified” regarding traces of enriched uranium previously found at three sites that had not been declared by Iran as having hosted nuclear activities.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during a press statement at EU headquarters in Brussels, February 27, 2022. (Stephanie Lecocq,Pool Photo via AP)

Iran has warned “any political action” by the United States and the so-called E3 group of France, Germany and the UK would “provoke without any doubt a proportional, effective and immediate response.”

“There is no excuse for Iran’s continued failure to provide meaningful cooperation with the agency’s investigation,” Kelsey Davenport, an expert with the Arms Control Association, told AFP.

“A resolution censuring Iran is necessary to send a message that there are consequences for stonewalling the agency and failing to meet safeguards obligations,” she said.

China and Russia, which are also parties to the Iran nuclear deal — together with Britain, France and Germany — have warned that any resolution could disrupt the negotiation process.

Russia’s ambassador to the UN in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, in a tweet called on the EU to “undertake extra diplomatic efforts.”

But even if the climate is tense, negotiations are unlikely to fall apart, according to Clement Therme, associate researcher at the Rasanah International Institute for Iranian Studies.

“Given the war in Ukraine, the Europeans are not ready to trigger a new crisis with Iran when they are already dealing with a crisis with Russia” which invaded its neighbor in February, he said.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian speaks during a joint press conference with his Lebanese counterpart Abdallah Bouhabib in Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, March 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

The expert suggested that the resolution would be worded “in a way that does not close the door to further negotiations.”

A key sticking point is Tehran’s demand for Washington to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the ideological arm of Iran’s military, from the official US list of terror groups.

US President Joe Biden’s administration has refused to do so ahead of tough November midterm elections.

“The political cost Biden will pay for lifting sanctions on the IRGC is high, but it pales in comparison to the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran,” Davenport said.

She said Biden’s administration “should double down on other creative proposals to get negotiations back on track.”

According to the latest IAEA report, the Islamic Republic now has 43.1 kilograms (95 pounds) of 60-percent-enriched uranium.

If enriched to 90%, this could be used to make a bomb in under 10 days, Davenport warned in a report last week.

“Weaponizing would still take one to two years, but that process would be more difficult to detect and disrupt once Iran moved the weapons-grade uranium from its declared enrichment facilities,” Davenport said.

IAEA director Rafael Grossi visited Israel on Friday for talks with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett focused on Iran’s nuclear program.

A statement from Bennett’s office said the premier warned him that Iran was pushing ahead on developing a nuclear weapon while misleading the world with “false information and lies” to conceal its work.

Bennett stressed the “urgent need” to confront Iran using “all means” to prevent it from acquiring nuclear arms, according to the Prime Minister’s Office. He also called for the IAEA to send Tehran a “clear and unequivocal message” at the Board of Governors meeting dealing with undeclared Iranian nuclear sites.

“Bennett made it clear that while Israel prefers diplomacy in order to deny Iran the possibility of developing nuclear weapons, it reserves the right to self-defense and to take action against Iran in order to block its nuclear program should the international community not succeed in the relevant timeframe,” the statement said.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett (R) meets with Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, on June 3, 2022. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Grossi’s trip came as Israel has expressed growing concerns about Iran’s atomic activities and any potential return to the 2015 nuclear agreement between Tehran and world powers.

Israel was a staunch opponent of the 2015 nuclear deal and welcomed the Trump administration’s unilateral withdrawal from the agreement, which caused it to collapse. However, a number of current and former security officials have begun saying that the withdrawal was a mistake, as it has led to Iran accelerating its nuclear enrichment efforts.

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