February 2, 2023

UN nuclear watchdog demands Iran gives answer on expired monitoring deal, Middle East News & Top Stories

VIENNA/PARIS (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) – The United Nations nuclear watchdog demanded an immediate reply from Iran on whether it would extend a monitoring agreement that expired overnight on Friday (June 25), prompting an Iranian envoy to respond that Teheran was under no obligation to provide an answer.

The agreement continued the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)’s collection of data on some of Teheran’s activities, cushioning the blow of Iran’s decision in February to reduce cooperation with the agency.

“An immediate response from Iran is needed in this regard,”the IAEA said in a statement summarising a report by its chief Rafael Grossi to its 35-nation Board of Governors that was also seen by Reuters.

Grossi wrote to Iran last week “to understand Iran’s position regarding the possible continued collection, recording and retention of data”, the report said.

As of Friday, Iran had not indicated if it intended to maintain the arrangement, it said.

Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, “said that Iran was not required to comply” with the IAEA head’s request, Iran’s semi-official news agency Tasnim reported.

Washington believes Teheran should engage the IAEA without further delay and a failure to do so would contradict Iran’s stated desire for both to resume compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal as soon as possible, said a US State Department official.

“Iran should engage the IAEA without further delay to ensure appropriate measures remain in place so the IAEA’s continuity of knowledge on JCPOA monitoring can be readily re-established,” the US official said on condition of anonymity.

Iran and the United States have been holding indirect talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Teheran and major powers that imposed restrictions on Teheran’s nuclear activities in exchange for lifting international sanctions.

The Vienna talks, which began in April, are now in a pause that had been expected to last until early July, but failure to extend the monitoring accord could throw those negotiations into disarray.

The expiry of the monitoring agreement raised the prospect that Iran could delete sensitive enrichment information and thus complicating broader negotiations to revive its nuclear deal with world powers.

Iran has said it would decide whether to renew the agreement only after it expires. The country let a previous deadline lapse by 24 hours last month before agreeing to extend the pact, which preserves video and enrichment data captured at Iranian nuclear installations.

Teheran’s government has threatened to permanently delete the information depending on the outcome of wider discussions over sanctions relief and could use the expiry of its arrangement with the IAEA as leverage in those negotiations.

“Regarding the IAEA, this remains a serious concern,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking before Grossi updated the board, told a news conference in Paris alongside his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian. “The concern has been communicated to Iran and needs to be resolved.”

The United States abandoned the deal under then-President Donald Trump in 2018 and reimposed harsh US sanctions, prompting Iran to respond by violating many of its restrictions.

One of Iran’s moves to reduce compliance was its February decision to end the deal’s extra IAEA monitoring of some nuclear activities.

The temporary agreement continued that monitoring and a one-month extension ended overnight.

Officials on all sides have said there are major issues to resolve before the nuclear deal can be revived.

“We still have significant differences with Iran,” Blinken said, adding that he hoped a resumption of talks in the coming days could settle them. “We are just not there yet.”

Le Drian echoed that. “We’re waiting for Iranian authorities to take the final difficult decisions to allow for the revival of the 2015 nuclear deal,” he said.

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