Iran and IAEA agree new safeguards plan
By Samuel M. Hickey
Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have agreed to adopt a “practical and pragmatic approach” to resolve outstanding safeguards issues and thereby bring Iran back into compliance with its nuclear safety commitments. nuclear verification, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said after a trip. in Tehran on March 5.
The two sides issued a statement outlining a series of measures that will guide cooperation between Iran and the IAEA on safeguards disputes at three undeclared locations in Iran.
Although this arrangement is separate from the diplomatic efforts of China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States and Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement, officially Known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the fate of the JCPOA is closely tied to Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA.
Following the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the nuclear deal in May 2018, Iran began to reduce compliance with the JCPOA a year later. It eventually stopped implementing the additional protocol to its safeguards agreement, which provides additional tools for the IAEA to verify the peaceful use of nuclear material, and a special monitoring agreement intended to ensure that the IAEA maintains continuity of knowledge about Iran’s nuclear activities.
The IAEA is currently “blind” to details of Iran’s activities at the three sites because it is unable to retrieve surveillance data stored on the agency’s cameras. The IAEA’s ability to retrieve this data and piece together a full picture of Iran’s nuclear program likely also depends on reviving the JCPOA. (To see ACTJanuary/February 2022.)
The safeguards dispute relates to nuclear activities prior to 2003, when Tehran had a nuclear weapons program. The IAEA concluded its investigation into these activities in 2015, but is obligated to act on evidence pointing to undeclared nuclear material and activities that Iran should have disclosed under its safeguards agreement. The IAEA is seeking information and clarification on the presence of undeclared uranium.
Initially, there were four undisclosed places of concern in Iran. The IAEA recently concluded its investigation of the second of four locations where natural uranium in the form of a metallic disc may have been present, conducting verification activities at the site called Jabr Ibn Hayan Laboratories. While the agency could not identify the disc, it also could not “exclude that the disc was melted down, remelted, and may now be part of the declared nuclear material inventory” at the lab. While explaining the decision at a press conference, Grossi said: “[W]We don’t have enough questions that could support a process. The agency should reopen the case if it receives new information.
To clarify outstanding issues, the joint statement by the IAEA and the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) details a timeline for cooperation. Under this, by March 20, 2022, Iran had to provide written explanations to the questions raised by the IAEA regarding the three sites. Within two weeks of this event, the IAEA will submit to the AEOI any questions about the information received; a week later, the IAEA and AEOI will meet in Tehran to discuss the remaining issues.
At that time, separate meetings will be held to review each disputed Iranian site. Finally, Grossi will endeavor to present his findings at the IAEA Board of Governors meeting in June.
While experts viewed the agreement as a positive step, they said there was always the possibility that any lingering issues over safeguards disputes could affect the implementation of a revived JCPOA. Moreover, if the IAEA is not satisfied, the other participants in the nuclear negotiations could have similar hesitations as to the implementation of this agreement.
Grossi said political pressure was not leading to a solution. “We must be left alone in our professional work and we will determine with the experts from the guarantee department,” he said on March 5.