Western powers laud ‘unambiguous message’ sent by IAEA’s censure of Iran

US, Britain, France and Germany urge Tehran to ‘fulfill its legal obligations’ to UN watchdog and demonstrate that its nuclear program is not being used for military purposes

In this image provided by the White House, US President Joe Biden listens during a secure video call with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the Situation Room at the White House, March 7, 2022, in Washington. (Adam Schultz/The White House via AP, File)
In this image provided by the White House, US President Joe Biden listens during a secure video call with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the Situation Room at the White House, March 7, 2022, in Washington. (Adam Schultz/The White House via AP, File)

Western powers lauded the UN’s nuclear watchdog late Wednesday after its members overwhelmingly voted to formally censure Iran for refusing to disclose parts of its nuclear program, saying the symbolic move had sent a clear message to the Islamic Republic about the need to reform.

In a joint statement, the foreign ministries of the US, Britain, France and Germany urged Iran “to fulfill its legal obligations, and cooperate with the the International Atomic Energy Agency.”

“The overwhelming majority vote at the IAEA Board of Governors today sends an unambiguous message to Iran that it must meet its safeguards obligations,” the Western powers said, referring to activities required by the UN agency to prove that a country is not using its nuclear program for military purposes.

The four countries had proposed the measure, which deals with what the UN watchdog refers to as Iran’s failure to provide “credible information” over nuclear material found at undeclared sites across the country.

The motion, the first to criticize Iran since June 2020, was approved by 30 members of the IAEA board of governors, with only Russia and China voting against it. India, Libya and Pakistan abstained.

The decision to censure Iran is largely symbolic and does not threaten any specific actions from world powers against Iran.

The Western powers, which are in talks with Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement, said they would not need to take any additional steps at the IAEA if the Islamic Republic began cooperating with the UN agency once again. Implicit in the comment, however, was the threat that additional steps could be taken in the future.

The countries also praised the the agency’s inspectors operating in Iran and elsewhere, saying that “the international safeguards system … is essential to all of our security.”

An inspector of the International Atomic Energy Agency sets up surveillance equipment, at the Uranium Conversion Facility of Iran, just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, Aug. 8, 2005 (AP Photo/Mehdi Ghasemi, ISNA, File )

In a separate statement, Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia also welcomed the IAEA decision, insisting that “Iran must comply with its obligations” and cooperate with the IAEA “to resolve all outstanding nuclear issues.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also praised the censure, saying it “affirms that Iran is not cooperating with the IAEA and does not obey its rules, thus it is not possible for the agency to fulfill its important role to act against nuclear military operations.”

Iran’s Foreign Ministry meanwhile criticized the censure as a “political, incorrect and unconstructive action.”

An Iranian official earlier warned IAEA officials that Tehran was now considering taking “other measures” as well.

“We hope that they come to their senses and respond to Iran’s cooperation with cooperation,” said Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. “It is not acceptable that they show inappropriate behavior while Iran continues to cooperate.”

A truck containing cylinder of uranium hexafluoride gas leaves Ahmadi Roshan uranium enrichment facility in Natanz to Fordo nuclear facility for the purpose of injecting the gas into Fordo centrifuges, November 6, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

Hours before the resolution was adopted by the Board of Governors, Iran announced that it had disconnected some IAEA cameras monitoring its nuclear sites.

Iran’s latest move, announced by state television, makes it even more difficult for inspectors to monitor Tehran’s nuclear program. Nonproliferation experts have warned Iran now has enough uranium enriched close to weapons-grade levels to pursue an atomic bomb if it chooses to do so.

The state TV report said authorities deactivated the IAEA’s online monitors that watch the enrichment of uranium gas through piping at enrichment facilities.

In 2016, the IAEA said it installed one of those devices in Iran’s underground Natanz nuclear facility, its main enrichment site, located some 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Tehran. Iran is also enriching uranium at its underground Fordo facility, though the IAEA is not known to have installed these devices there.

Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi shows the inner of a case of an IAEA monitoring device during a press conference in Vienna, Austria, December 17, 2021. (AP/Michael Gruber)

“The Islamic Republic of Iran has so far had extensive cooperation with the IAEA,” state TV said in its report Wednesday. “Unfortunately, the agency, without considering this cooperation… not only did not appreciate this cooperation but also considered it a duty of Iran.”

Tehran said its civilian nuclear arm, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, monitored the shutdown of the cameras. It said 80% of the existing cameras will continue to operate as before. Safeguards refer to the IAEA’s inspections and monitoring of a country’s nuclear program.

The Vienna-based IAEA declined to immediately comment. However, Iran’s move come after IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi criticized Iran for failing to provide “credible information” about unexplained nuclear material discovered at three undeclared Iranian sites — long a point of contention between the agency and Tehran.

US Ambassador Laura S.H. Holgate identified the Iranian sites in comments Wednesday to the IAEA’s board as Marivan, Turquzabad and Varamin. Iran has denied carrying out nuclear work at these locations.

Iran already has been holding footage from IAEA surveillance cameras since February 2021 as a pressure tactic to restore the atomic accord.

Iran and world powers agreed in 2015 to the nuclear deal, which saw Tehran drastically limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. In 2018, then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord, raising tensions across the wider Middle East and sparking a series of attacks and incidents.

Talks in Vienna over Iran’s tattered nuclear deal have been stalled since April. Since the deal’s collapse, Iran runs advanced centrifuges and has a rapidly growing stockpile of enriched uranium. Nonproliferation experts warn Iran has enriched enough up to 60% purity — a short technical step from weapons-grade levels of 90% — to make one nuclear weapon should it decide to do so.

Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes, though UN experts and Western intelligence agencies say Iran had an organized military nuclear program through 2003.

Building a nuclear bomb would still take Iran more time if it pursued a weapon, analysts say, though they warn Tehran’s advances make the program more dangerous. Israel has threatened in the past that it would carry out a preemptive strike to stop Iran — and already is suspected in a series of recent killings targeting Iranian officials.

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