Frustrated West beginning to turn up heat on Iran – Israeli official

IAEA Board set to censure Tehran, a move Jerusalem sees as start of process to kick nuclear issue back to UNSC; IAEA said to find Iran has enough enriched uranium for 3 bombs

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks at a press conference after the IAEA Board of Governors meeting on the Situation in Ukraine at the Agency's headquarters in the Vienna International Centre in Vienna, Austria, on March 2, 2022. (Lisa Leutner/AP)
IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks at a press conference after the IAEA Board of Governors meeting on the Situation in Ukraine at the Agency's headquarters in the Vienna International Centre in Vienna, Austria, on March 2, 2022. (Lisa Leutner/AP)

A senior Israeli official said Monday that diplomatic pressure is mounting on Iran over its nuclear program, which could result in the issue being referred back to the UN Security Council, an outcome Israel would welcome.

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s Board of Governors is meeting Monday through Friday in Vienna, and is expected to censure Iran for the first time since June 2020.

“This decision will for the first time put diplomatic pressure on Iran,” the official said. “Diplomatic pressure that hasn’t been fully and seriously applied since the talks about the return to the JCPOA began,” he added, referring to the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Talks to revive the accord — which unraveled after the United States pulled out in 2018 and Iran backed out of its commitments in retaliation — started in April 2021, but have stalled in recent months.

“We can see from Iran’s public statements and their threats that they are starting to show signs of pressure from the fact that the Board of Governors decision is going to be presented,” the official said.

The IAEA resolution, drafted by the United States, Britain, France, and Germany, urges Iran to “cooperate fully” with the UN agency.

The official, speaking via video link with Israeli reporters, also said the Biden administration is changing its approach toward Iran, as evidenced by recent sanctions against the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

On May 25, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced that the US was designating an IRGC money laundering and oil smuggling ring as terrorist supporters.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing at the US Capitol, on April 26, 2022, in Washington. (Bonnie Cash-Pool/Getty Images/AFP)

The official said that growing frustration in the West and building political pressure is the start of a process that could end up with Tehran’s nuclear program back in the hands of the Security Council. Such a decision, which must be made by the IAEA Board of Governors, is not going to come this week, the official acknowledged.

An upcoming report by IAEA chief Rafael Grossi on Iran’s violations of the JCPOA is expected to show that the amount of uranium Iran has enriched to 60 percent could be enough for three nuclear weapons, the official said. The draft resolution is seen as a sign of growing impatience as diplomats warn the window to save the landmark nuclear deal is closing.

Grossi said on Monday that Iran has still not provided satisfactory answers over the presence of uranium at several facilities.

“Iran has not provided explanations that are technically credible in relation to the agency’s findings at three undeclared locations in Iran,” he said, addressing the meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors in Vienna.

“Nor has Iran informed the agency of the current location, or locations, of the nuclear material and/or of the equipment contaminated with nuclear material, that was moved from Turquzabad in 2018,” he added.

In his remarks, Grossi did not mention his recent trip to Israel and his meetings with Israeli officials. On Thursday, Grossi touched down in Tel Aviv for a snap visit, meeting with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett before returning to Vienna.

The Israeli official said that there is currently remarkable coordination on the Iranian issue between Israel and the US, led by National Security adviser Eyal Hulata and his US counterpart, Jake Sullivan.

National Security Council chairman Eyal Hulata (L) and US National Security adviser Jake Sullivan. (Composite/ Courtesy, AP)

Turning to the issue of the US designation of the IRGC as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, the official said that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei introduced the demand to have the designation removed only after a draft agreement was already on the table.

“The supreme leader thought he had received everything he wanted, and made another demand,” the official said.

Iranian demands for the removal of the IRGC had been a key sticking point in the talks top revive the nuclear deal, but last Wednesday, the US point man on Iran, Rob Malley, said Iran’s refusal to make concessions in kind made the removal impossible.

Israel had launched a public campaign against delisting the IRGC, warning against rewarding the group behind the deaths of thousands of American citizens.

Supporters of the delisting say it is a pill worth swallowing to ensure a revival of the JCPOA, given that it would be largely symbolic and significant economic sanctions against the IRGC would remain.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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