Iran has agreed to allow inspectors in to two sites where the country is suspected of having stored or used undeclared nuclear material, the UN atomic watchdog agency said Wednesday.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran was “voluntarily providing the IAEA with access to the two locations specified by the IAEA and facilitating the IAEA verification activities to resolve the issues.”
It said in a joint statement with Iran that the dates for the inspections had been agreed, but did not say when they would take place.
The inspections would resolve a months-long impasse between Iran and the IAEA, and the announcement came as the agency’s Director General Rafael Grossi was on his way home to Vienna after his first visit to Tehran since taking over the post in December. Grossi said the inspectors would visit the sites “very, very soon.”
Iran had been resisting providing access to the sites, which are thought to be from the early 2000s, before it signed the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, maintaining the IAEA had no legal basis to visit them.
One of the sites was reported to be in Abadeh, south of Isfahan — a location that in September 2019 was revealed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the site of an alleged secret nuclear facility.
Netanyahu said at the time that Iran had tried to destroy the site and any evidence it had been used to develop nuclear weapons. “Today, we’re revealing that yet another secret nuclear site was exposed in the archives that we brought from Tehran. In this site, Iran conducted experiments to develop nuclear weapons,” he said at the time, showing before and after photographs.
The head of Iran’s nuclear agency, Ali Akbar Salehi, confirmed that Iran had agreed to the inspections, saying “this will bring the case to an end.”
“We are loyal to conventions and our commitments,” he said, adding that he hoped the agreement would open a new chapter between Iran and the IAEA based upon “good intentions and mutual acceptance.”
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who on Wednesday met with the IAEA chief, said Grossi’s visit had produced a “good agreement that can help for moving on a correct and proper path and achieve the final resolution of problems.”
As the US and others continue to put more pressure on Iran, Rouhani urged the IAEA to continue its “independence, impartiality and professionalism.”
“Iran, like before, is ready to closely cooperate with the agency in the framework of safeguards,” Rouhani said, according to the government’s official website.
He called the agreement “favorable” and said it can help “finally settle issues”.
Rouhani also called on Grossi to consider that Iran has “sworn enemies” with nuclear weapons who do not cooperate with the IAEA and are “always seeking to cause issues” for Tehran.
Grossi told IAEA board members in March that it had “identified a number of questions related to possible undeclared nuclear material and nuclear-related activities at three locations that have not been declared by Iran” and had been pressing for access.
In its report in June, the agency said it had determined that one site had undergone “extensive sanitization and leveling” in 2003 and 2004 and there would be no verification value in inspecting it. It said Iran has blocked access to the other two locations, one of which was partially demolished in 2004 and the other at which the agency observed activities “consistent with efforts to sanitize” the facility from July 2019 onward.
At the same time, it emphasized that Iran had been fully providing access to sites agreed upon in the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, with the US, Russia, China, Germany, France and Britain.
The nuclear deal promised Iran economic incentives in return for the curbs on its nuclear program. President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the deal unilaterally in 2018, saying it needed to be renegotiated.
Since then, Iran has since slowly violated the restrictions to try and pressure the remaining nations to increase the incentives to offset new, economy-crippling US sanctions.
The ultimate goal of the deal is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb. Since the US withdrawal, Iran has stockpiled enough uranium to produce a weapon, although the government in Tehran insists it has no such goal and that its atomic program is only for producing energy.
The other members of the accord have been struggling to keep the deal alive saying, among other things, that even though Iran has violated many parts of the deal, the ability for inspectors to continue to visit its nuclear sites is critical.
On his return to Vienna, where the IAEA is based, Grossi told reporters that inspectors would visit the sites “very, very soon”. He said he could not reveal the exact dates.
In their statement, the two sides said the agreement followed “intensive bilateral consultations” and that the IAEA had no further access requests.
“Based on analysis of available information to the IAEA, the IAEA does not have further questions to Iran and further requests for access to locations,” they said.
The IAEA’s board of governors had passed a resolution in late June put forward by Britain, France and Germany, urging Tehran to provide inspectors access to the two disputed sites.