IAEA: Iran will extend inspection deal, won’t delete footage of nuclear sites

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman said agreement with UN watchdog for inspectors to access surveillance images would first require progress in wider Vienna negotiations

Illustrative: IAEA inspectors at Iran's nuclear power plant in Natanz on January 20, 2014. (IRNA/AFP Kazem Ghane/File)
Illustrative: IAEA inspectors at Iran's nuclear power plant in Natanz on January 20, 2014. (IRNA/AFP Kazem Ghane/File)

The UN nuclear watchdog and Iran have agreed to extend an understanding to monitor Tehran’s activities by one month, the agency said Monday, with talks ongoing in Vienna try to save the 2015 nuclear deal.

“The equipment and the verification and the monitoring activities that we agreed will continue as they are now for one month expiring on June 24, 2021,” International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director-general Rafael Grossi told a news conference following overnight talks.

Iran’s hardline parliament in December approved a bill that would suspend part of UN inspections of its nuclear facilities if European signatories did not provide relief from oil and banking sanctions by February. The IAEA struck a three-month deal with Iran in February to have it hold the surveillance images, with Tehran threatening to delete them afterward if no deal had been reached.

Grossi said that besides extending that understanding, Tehran had also agreed that information collected so far by agency equipment in Iran would not be erased.

He said the outcome of this “long discussion” was “important” but the situation was “not ideal.”

“We should all be reminded that the temporary understanding is a sort of stop-gap measure. It is to avoid flying completely blind,” Grossi said.

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), speaks during a press conference at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria on Mai 24, 2021. (ALEX HALADA/AFP)

The last-minute discussions further underscored the narrowing window for the US and others to reach terms with Iran as it presses a tough stance with the international community over its atomic program. The Islamic Republic is already enriching and stockpiling uranium at levels far beyond those allowed by its 2015 nuclear deal.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said ahead of Grossi’s comments that any potential agreement with the IAEA would require a “result” in the wider Vienna talks over the nuclear deal before inspectors could access the surveillance camera footage.

Hardline Iranian parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf announced Sunday that the deal had expired. He said Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of state, supported the decision to see the deal as void.

The nuclear negotiations have been plagued by contradictory, anonymously leaked information coming from Iran. It’s likely a sign of the conflict between the administration of the outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, the relatively moderate cleric who clinched the 2015 deal, and the hardliners now seeking to replace him.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh gestures during a press conference in Tehran on February 22, 2021 (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

The 2015 accord, which had Iran curtail its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief, started to unravel in 2018 when the US withdrew and reimposed sanctions.

Current talks between world powers are aiming to bring the US back into the deal and lift sanctions in exchange for Iran reversing nuclear activities it stepped up after Washington pulled out.

Iran said Monday that talks in Vienna depend on a “political decision” by the US, after Washington questioned Tehran’s readiness to return to compliance with the accord.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had said it remains unclear whether Iran is “ready and willing” to take the necessary steps to return to compliance with the multi-nation nuclear agreement.

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