IAEA warns Iran undeclared nuclear work 'not in its interest'

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Mariano Grossi urges Iran to 'urgently' resume work with investigators

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The United Nations nuclear watchdog said on Monday Iran needs to fully co-operate with its inspectors regarding its undeclared nuclear work.

The agency reported last week that Iran had not provided technically credible explanations for uranium particles detected at several locations.

International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi urged Iran to “urgently” resume work with investigators.

“We have to recognise that we have not been able to get the results we were expecting,” Mr Grossi told reporters on the sidelines of the first day of an IAEA meeting of its 35-member board of governors in the Austrian capital Vienna. The meeting runs until Friday.

“This will be a reminder for Iran, and for us, and for everybody, that we really need to get down to work and clarify these issues that have been outstanding for too long,” Mr Grossi added.

“These issues will not go away. The problem here is that Iran has to continue working with us. They have a very ambitious nuclear programme. It’s in their own interest to clear this.”

The IAEA meeting also discussed plans to send an international mission of experts to the Russian-held nuclear power plant at Zaporizhzhia in Ukraine, Europe's largest.

The military operations at nuclear power facilities of Ukraine have caused grave concerns about a nuclear incident that could risk the lives of people in Ukraine, Russia and potentially some neighbouring countries.

In recent months, the IAEA said it had placed two major issues high on its agenda. First, the safety and security of Ukraine’s nuclear power plants amid the war with Russia, and second, making progress on the clarification of the outstanding safeguard issues with Iran.

An IAEA resolution is likely

Naysan Rafati, the Senior Iran Analyst at the International Crisis Group, says there are two parallel but closely interwoven processes at play: negotiations on restoring the 2015 nuclear deal to address Iran's present and future nuclear activity, and the IAEA safeguards probe to resolve questions about past work at undeclared sites.

"The latter has been inconclusively running along for a few years, and in March, while the talks in Vienna were trying to move toward conclusion, Tehran again committed to addressing the Agency's concerns," Mr Rafati told The National.

He doesn't think the intended message from the IAEA is to scupper the nuclear talks, but rather to underscore the importance that Iran follow through on the cooperation it itself has committed to.

"But over the past few weeks, and again in his remarks Monday, Director General Grossi has voiced concern over the extent of Iran's cooperation, teeing up the possibility that the Board may move toward a resolution to censure Iran."

In his briefing on Monday, Mr Grossi said he was neither for nor against a possible vote to censure Iran during this week’s meeting, stressing the importance of continued cooperation with Iran despite recent tensions.

In March, Mr Grossi said in an update to the board of governors that the Agency's inspection work had been “seriously affected” for at least 11 months since February 2021, as the authorities in Tehran prolonged the implementation of an agreement regarding its nuclear-related commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal, which is officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) pact.

He said then the repeated prolongation and stonewalling posed a significant challenge to the Agency’s ability to “restore continuity of knowledge” of Iran’s undeclared nuclear work.

The IAEA says some of Iran’s stockpile of all enriched uranium [nearly 3,200 kilograms] has been enriched up to 60 per cent purity — a short technical step from weapons-grade levels of 90 per cent.

Talks with Tehran to revive a 2015 nuclear deal hit a standstill earlier this year. The talks started in April last year in Vienna with the aim of bringing the US back into the agreement and getting Iran to scale back its stepped-up nuclear programme.

The administration of former US president Donald Trump left JCPOA in 2018 and imposed sanctions on Iran's oil, metals and textile industries, as well as on senior officials and military commanders.

Iran's foreign minister told the World Economic Forum last month that the US should effectively lift the economic sanctions — the main tool to pressure Iran — if it wanted to save the deal.

The co-ordinator of the talks, the EU's top diplomat Josep Borrell, warned in a tweet this weekend that the possibility of returning to the accord was “shrinking”.

“But we still can do it with an extra effort,” he said on his official Twitter account.

The US suspects Tehran is secretly developing a military nuclear programme, but Iranian officials deny this and insist it is for peaceful and civilian purposes only.

Over the past year, both sides have accused one another of showing little interest in compromising.

Updated: June 17, 2023, 7:52 AM