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Iran to allow memory cards in nuclear site cameras, averting IAEA showdown

Announcement buys time for Tehran ahead of watchdog meeting this week where Western powers were set to argue for Tehran to be censured over its lack of cooperation

Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi, center, speaks with Deputy Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Behrouz Kamalvandi, left, upon his arrival at Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport, Iran, Sept. 11, 2021 (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)
Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi, center, speaks with Deputy Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Behrouz Kamalvandi, left, upon his arrival at Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport, Iran, Sept. 11, 2021 (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

Iran agreed in principle Sunday to allow international inspectors to install new memory cards into surveillance cameras at its sensitive nuclear sites and to continue filming there, averting a diplomatic showdown this week. The specific terms and timing of the agreement were not revealed.

The announcement by Mohammad Eslami of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran after a meeting he held with the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, in Tehran still leaves the watchdog in the same position it has faced since February, however.

Tehran holds all recordings at its sites as negotiations over the US and Iran returning to the 2015 nuclear deal remain stalled in Vienna. Meanwhile, Iran is now enriching small amounts of uranium to its closest-ever levels to weapons-grade purity as its stockpile continues to grow.

“I am glad to say that today we were able to have a very constructive result, which has to do with the continuity of the operation of the agency’s equipment here,” Grossi said. It “is indispensable for us to provide the necessary guarantee and information to the IAEA and to the world that everything is in order,” he said.

Eslami described the negotiations between Iran and the Vienna-based IAEA as “sheerly technical” without any room for politics. He said Grossi would return to Iran soon to talk with officials, without elaborating. Also left unsaid was whether Iran would hand over copies of the older recordings, which Tehran had threatened previously to destroy.

“The memory cards are sealed and kept in Iran according to the routine,” Eslami said. “New memory cards will be installed in cameras. That is a routine and natural trend in the agency’s monitoring system.”

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, Mohammad Eslami, walks in the presidency compound, April 7, 2021, in Tehran, Iran (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

A joint statement released by the IAEA and Iran confirmed the understanding, saying only that “the way and the timing are agreed by the two sides.”

The announcement could buy time for Iran ahead of a meeting this week of the IAEA board, in which Western powers had been arguing for Tehran to be censured over its lack of cooperation with international inspectors. Eslami said Iran would take part in that meeting.

The IAEA told member states in its confidential quarterly report last week that its verification and monitoring activities have been “seriously undermined” since February by Iran’s refusal to let inspectors access their monitoring equipment.

The IAEA said certain monitoring and surveillance equipment cannot be left for more than three months without being serviced. It was provided with access this month to four surveillance cameras installed at one site, but one of the cameras had been destroyed and a second had been severely damaged, the agency said.

Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, November 5, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

Israel has repeatedly warned that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett urged world powers to not “fall into the trap of Iranian deception that will lead to additional concessions” over the impasse.

“You must not give up on inspecting sites and the most important thing, the most important message is that there must be a time limit,” Bennett said. Iran is “dragging on, we must set a clear-cut deadline that says: until here.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz on Sunday called for immediate “snapback” sanctions on Iran in the wake of the IAEA report last week, which found that Tehran has quadrupled its stock of 60 percent enriched uranium since May.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks at a counterterrorism conference at Reichman University in Herzliya on September 12, 2021. (Ronen Topelberg)

“Iran does not respect the agreements it has signed, and there’s no reason to believe it will respect any agreements it will sign in the future. The time has come for action,” he said, referring to the 2015 nuclear deal, which barred Tehran from enriching uranium beyond 3.5%.

Israel has “greatly accelerated” preparations for action against Iran’s nuclear program, military chief Aviv Kohavi said in an interview published last week.

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