IAEA head: ‘There might be gaps’ in oversight of Iran’s nuclear program

Nuclear watchdog only has “blurry picture” of what’s happening in Iran’s atomic facilities, IAEA chief Rafael Mariano Grossi admits. 

By Donna Rachel Edmunds, World Israel News

Advances made by Iran with its nuclear program since the 2015 deal collapsed mean that it will not be possible to simply recreate that deal afresh, the head of the United Nation’s nuclear watchdog has said.

Since the the U.S. quit the agreement in 2018, Tehran has begun enriching uranium up to 60 percent purity, a short step away from the 90% required for weapons-grade fissile material, and a long way on from the original deal’s limit of 3.67% required for energy use.

Talks designed to resurrect the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action  in Vienna are faltering. In an interview with the Associated Press, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Mariano Grossi, admitted the new deal will have to take these advances into account.

“The reality is that we are dealing with a very different Iran,” he said. “2022 is so different from 2015 that there will have to be adjustments that take into consideration these new realities so our inspectors can inspect whatever the countries agree at the political table.”

According to AP, satellite photos show ongoing construction just south of Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, which has twice been struck by Israel over the last two years in an attempt to slow production. Another facility is being build aboveground at Iran’s Fordow site, in defiance of the JCPOA. Iran also continues to spin ever more advanced centrifuges contrary to the agreement.

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Meanwhile Grossi admitted that the view the international community is getting of Iran’s actions are, at best, “blurred.”

“If the international community through us, through the IAEA, is not seeing clearly how many centrifuges or what is the capacity that they may have … what you have is a very blurred image,” Grossi said. “It will give you the illusion of the real image. But not the real image. This is why [the new deal] is so important.”

He added: “The problem is that the more time passes and you lose the ability to record what is going on, then the moment this capability is restored, inspectors come back and start to put the jigsaw puzzle together again. There might be gaps. And these gaps are not a good thing to have.”

Yet so far Iran has run rings around the international community. America has not come to the table, preferring to take part in negotiations indirectly, while European negotiators warned Monday night: “Without swift progress, in light of Iran’s fast-forwarding of its nuclear program, the [deal] will very soon become an empty shell.”

Grossi himself issued pleas for Iran to come to heel.

If the Islamic Republic wanted to be “a respected country in the community of nations,” they would have to accept that there is “no way around” his inspectors, he said, adding: “We have to work together … They must work together. I will make sure they understand that in us they will have a partner.”

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Overnight, and apparently in response to criticism of Iran’s attitude to the talks, Iranian negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani  Tweeted: “Some actors persist in their blame game habit, instead of real diplomacy.”

In a measure of how emboldened Tehran has become, Bagheri Kani has stopped referring to the negotiations as nuclear talks at all. In Paris last month he said “We have no such thing as nuclear negotiations.” Instead he said the talks were “negotiations to remove unlawful and inhuman sanctions.”

He has also described the outcome of previous negotiations, conducted under former president Hassan Rouhani as “draft”.

Commenting on the difference between the Rouhani administration, and that of incoming President Ebrahim Raisi, Grossi noted that “the change is palpable.”

“The president himself and people around him have been saying very clearly they have views about the program,” he said. “They have strong views about the interactions that Iran has been having,” both with the IAEA and with parties to the nuclear deal.