IAEA chief touts alternative to Iran nuclear deal to break impasse

Crucial weeks ahead determining the direction of negotiations, Rafael Grossi says

A picture taken on November 10, 2019, shows workers on a construction site in Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant during an official ceremony to kick-start works for a second reactor at the facility. - Bushehr is Iran's only nuclear power station and is currently running on imported fuel from Russia that is closely monitored by the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)
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The head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog has suggested an alternative agreement to the landmark Iran nuclear deal could break the deadlock in talks between the regime and world powers.

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the coming weeks and months would be crucial in determining the direction the talks take.

Mr Grossi warned the Chatham House think tank in London on Tuesday against adopting a defeatist approach to the signatories’ sluggish efforts to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The landmark accord signed in 2015 collapsed after then US president Donald Trump pulled out in 2018 and reinstated severe banking and oil sanctions on Iran.

Mr Grossi floated the idea of an alternative deal as a means to break the stagnation.

“Europe has been a very strong advocate of JCPOA,” he said.

“Of course, the geostrategic factors are weighing because it's not so far away and the Middle East consideration that we were mentioning is very important.

“I think in the case of Europe, it is very important that they continue to support us in trying to find a viable way forward — JCPOA or no JCPOA.

“What we need to make sure is that we have the necessary elements to make sure that there is no proliferation, that this [nuclear] programme does not cross a line.

"And that might be through something like the JCPOA or something else. On this I’m neutral.”

Mr Grossi said the IAEA, based in Vienna, would be willing to “provide the monitoring elements to help Iran give the assurances they say they want to give the world that there is no deviation of nuclear material”.

But he said the watchdog’s role was strictly non-political.

Mr Grossi denied the IAEA was giving the international community a false sense of security by saying Iran does not have nuclear weapons.

He said the watchdog had inspectors in Iran every day and although access to some nuclear sites was restricted they had a good idea of the situation.

Mr Grossi denied the suggestion that Russia’s growing bond with Iran could somehow block the IAEA’s work to monitor the regime’s nuclear programme.

“Russia has no ability to obstruct the IAEA’s work in Iran,” he told the audience.

Mr Grossi said that despite the lack of progress in talks aimed at bringing about a return of the nuclear deal, he remained optimistic.

“I wouldn't despair in the sense that the JCPOA cannot be revived,” he said.

“I'm not saying yes JCPOA [or] no JCPOA. The important thing is to keep the non-proliferation rule strongly in place, and so we will see.

“The next few weeks and months will be crucial to determine whether there is a possibility.”

Mr Grossi emphasised the urgency to strike an agreement.

“It is the gap that worries me at this point in time because we are losing the visibility and the programme continues to work," he said.

"This is why I need to go to Tehran. We need to talk and we need to do it soon.”

Updated: February 07, 2023, 9:56 PM