Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 23 September 2020

UN inspectors to gain access to suspected Iran nuclear site in days

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency has said the agreement followed months of problems with Tehran

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), speaks during his press conference after the Board of Governors meeting of the IAEA at the agency's headquarters in Vienna, Austria AFP
Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), speaks during his press conference after the Board of Governors meeting of the IAEA at the agency's headquarters in Vienna, Austria AFP

UN inspectors will be granted access imminently to a suspected nuclear site in Iran, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has revealed.

Speaking to reporters, the IAEA Director General Raffaello Grossi said the scheduled visit by officials, to inspect the second of two suspected nuclear sites, would take place in a matter of days.

Mr Grossi travelled to Iran at the end of August to break a logjam between the IAEA and Tehran over access to two suspected sites believed to have formed part of the Islamic republic’s secret atomic weapons programme that was reportedly discontinued in 2003.

For months, Iran had denied access to the watchdog which plays a pivotal role in monitoring Tehran’s compliance to the 2015 deal in which it relinquished its nuclear weapons ambitions in exchange for sanctions relief.

The IAEA’s insistence over the old sites and Iran’s intransigence had threatened to deliver a serious blow to the already faltering 2015 accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian presidency, President Hassan Rouhani, right, welcomes Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi for their meeting in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020 AP
In this photo released by the official website of the office of the Iranian presidency, President Hassan Rouhani, right, welcomes Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi for their meeting in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2020 AP

Iran granted access to the first of the two sites shortly after Mr Grossi returned from Iran. Test samples taken from the area will be analysed in the next two or three months.

The IAEA has not publicly identified the two sites to be inspected. However, according to the New York Times, Israeli intelligence officials have specified one as the Abadeh Nuclear Weapons Development Site.

“We had a difficulty for six or seven months, and we were able to solve it, which was, I think, positive,” Mr Grossi said.

“For now we solved this big problem we have and we are working with them,” he added.

Mr Grossi warned that while he was satisfied with current levels of cooperation that the IAEA would continue to hold Iran to account in the future.

Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. Western intelligence officials believe the Natanz attack may have set the Iranian programme back by up to 18 months. AP
Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. Western intelligence officials believe the Natanz attack may have set the Iranian programme back by up to 18 months. AP

“Experiences have proven that there have been cases where we had disagreements and some others where cooperation was very smooth. So we will we will have to see,” he said.

The IAEA has recently reiterated its criticisms of Iran for flouting enriched uranium limits specified in the 2015 deal.

The JCPOA has been in peril since the US quit the accord in 2018 saying Iran was failing to live up to the spirit of the agreement by carrying out ballistic missile tests and backing proxies in a number of regional conflicts.

The remaining signatories – China, France, Russia, the UK, and Germany – have attempted to salvage the deal but in the intervening months relations between the US and Iran have continued to deteriorate.

US President Donald Trump has sought to impose a campaign of "maximum pressure" against Iran after his predecessor, Barack Obama, pursued a policy of relative rapprochement.

US President Donald Trump holds up a proclamation declaring his intention to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018. Reuters
US President Donald Trump holds up a proclamation declaring his intention to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018. Reuters

On Friday, Germany, France and Britain eschewed continued demands from the US for a “snapback” on all UN sanction against Iran.

After the meeting in Britain between the three nations, the European signatories to the deal indicated they were against a move that could jeopardise nuclear deal.

Dr Sanam Vakil, deputy director of the Chatham House think tank’s Mena Programme, told The National Iran’s agreement to comply in August had indicated its willingness to preserve the 2015 agreement.

“Providing access to the IAEA is a positive signal that Iran is trying to send to the remaining JCPOA signatories. It's coming at a time of increased pressure because of US efforts,” she said.

“Compliance and good behaviour is really important to send signals to the remaining signatories to keep the JCPOA alive.”

Mr Grossi had faced criticism, particularly from Russia and China, over his stance on Iran’s historical nuclear sites.

Dr Vakil said the IAEA head would look to continue dealing with Tehran evenly. “He is perceived to be more critical of Iran in the international community and the press,” she said, comparing Mr Grossi to his predecessor Yukiya Amano.

“I would see him trying to preserve this balance going forward,” she added.

Updated: September 14, 2020 07:42 PM

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