In an unexpected turn of events, Iran agreed last month to grant inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to two suspected former nuclear sites in the country. This agreement brings to an end a months-long standoff between Iran and the Vienna-based UN nuclear watchdog.
The agreement was struck during a two-day visit to Tehran by IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi. Speaking to reporters at Vienna airport on August 26 after returning from Tehran, a clearly gratified Grossi announced the successful results of the discussions:
“We have agreed that the inspectors will have access to two sites. This is extremely important.” Grossi declined to give the exact dates of the upcoming inspections, as is customary under the safeguards, but said it would take place “very, very soon”.
To formalize the agreement, Grossi and his counterpart, the head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, issued a joint statement in which they said that “Iran is voluntarily providing the IAEA with access to the two locations specified by the IAEA and facilitating the IAEA verification activities to resolve these issues”.
Iran had stonewalled the Agency for several months and denied the UN nuclear watchdog access to sites where nuclear activity may have taken place in the past. This led the IAEA Board of Governors to adopt a resolution in June, slamming Iran and calling on it to “fully cooperate with the agency”.
The IAEA began asking for access to those sites last year, after receiving intelligence from Israel that pointed to a possible earlier nuclear program in Iran. Israel had obtained what they called Iran’s “nuclear archive” during a daring raid by Mossad agents in January 2018.
But now that Iran has agreed to grant IAEA inspectors access to the specified locations close to Tehran and Isfahan, the Agency’s Board of Governors has no further reason to escalate the pressure.
Indeed, when I asked Grossi what to expect at the upcoming September IAEA Governors meeting, he said: “My impression is that this [agreement] will be welcomed. Since we have a positive outcome […] it is my sincere hope that this will be received well.”
A Temporary Reprieve, At Least
The agreement is an important breakthrough: Some experts had warned in June that if Iran failed to cooperate for much longer, the IAEA Board of Governors would have to refer the case to the UN Security Council in New York to consider the re-imposition of sanctions against Iran. This motion, which would most probably have dealt a fatal blow to the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal, is now off the table – at least for the time being.
Indeed, the joint statement underlined that “in this present context,” the IAEA did not have any further questions for Iran or further requests for access to locations.
However, this may not be the end of the inquiry, and IAEA may have to ask for additional access beyond the two specified sites. “I would not like to speculate, but I could imagine it,” Grossi said. “Of course, if we have information that warrants us to ask questions and, if necessary, [for] access, we will do it.”
This means that while this agreement is clearly a success, it may not be the end of the story. If further leads open up, the agency may indeed have to ask for additional access.
Lessons in U.S. Irrelevance
Nevertheless, the agreement is of significance, also against the background of other related developments.
Just days before Grossi flew to Tehran, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo triggered the so-called snapback provision in the UN Security Council in an attempt to re-impose all sanctions against Iran, arguing that Tehran had violated the Iran Nuclear Deal.
This move was rejected on August 25 by 13 out of the 15 Security Council members who all maintained that the U.S. move was illegal because the U.S. was no longer a party to the Nuclear Deal.
Hence, the Trump Administration’s two recent attempts to ring a death knell on the Iran Nuclear Deal ahead of the November presidential election have both failed and the international community has handed Donald Trump a double defeat.