European powers scrap plan to censure Iran at IAEA meeting

Tehran welcomes decision that keeps 'path of diplomacy' alive

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France, Germany and the UK scrapped a planned move to censure Iran for restricting access to investigators from the UN’s nuclear watchdog.

The decision by the European powers not to publicly rebuke Tehran was welcomed by Iranian officials, who said it kept nuclear diplomacy alive.

"Today's developments can keep open the path of diplomacy initiated by Iran and the IAEA," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said.

"Iran hopes the parties participating in the agreement can seize this opportunity, with serious co-operation, to ensure the full implementation of the agreement by all."

The European countries, backed by the US, planned to introduce the resolution criticising Iran at an IAEA board meeting after Tehran’s decision last month to suspend some nuclear inspections until US sanctions were lifted.

A last-minute visit to Tehran by IAEA director general Rafael Grossi resulted in an interim three-month deal for some access to be preserved.

The US also expressed hope that dropping the European censure plan would pave the way for progress on nuclear diplomacy.

Advances have remained stalled since US President Joe Biden took office with a pledge to re-enter the nuclear deal if Tehran returns to compliance with the accord.

“We also recognise that the director general has put forward a realistic schedule, which we understand Iran has accepted, when it comes to the next steps,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said.

“We will look forward with strong interest to Iran’s willingness to engage in a way that leads to credible, concrete progress on these issues.”

The scrapping of the resolution preserves that agreement and "opens the way for EU-led informal talks to begin on restoring" the nuclear deal Iran agreed to with world powers in 2015," said Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

"The Europeans have decided that censoring Iran, however valid the reasons, is not worth the additional stress on an already overburdened diplomatic initiative to restore the deal.

"Looking at the bigger picture, that makes sense."

Iranian authorities said the adoption of such a resolution at the IAEA could damage efforts to save the 2015 accord, from which former president Donald Trump withdrew the US in 2018 then reimposed sanctions on Tehran.

On Thursday, Tehran also agreed to meetings with the IAEA over three undeclared sites where uranium traces were found.

The agency had been for months seeking an answer amid suggestions the sites might have formerly been part of Iran's nuclear programme.

Mr Grossi said it was not for him to say if the European reversal was linked to the future IAEA-Iran meetings, but suggested they could be.

“It is obvious for everybody that all these matters need to have some resolution, and when it comes to Iran – and I'm not saying anything that Iran itself hasn't said – everything is interconnected, of course,” he said.

“These are different parts of a single whole.”

He said that through the face-to-face meetings over the sites where uranium traces were found, he hoped “we could try to go beyond the exchange of letters and messages which, to me, seemed a lot like talking past each other on this issue, and really try to tackle them and try to solve them".

Iran has since repeatedly breached the 2015 accord.

Mr Biden said he was ready to discuss returning to the deal, but only if Iran first stopped breaching it.

Last week, Tehran rejected an EU invitation to informal discussions with the US over the matter.