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Iran, IAEA reach last-minute deal on nuclear surveillance

BRUSSELS – In a last-minute deal before Iran is likely to be censored for violating its agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency, Tehran’s new government agreed on Sunday to let the organization reset monitoring devices that help measure the country’s nuclear progress. program.

The deal was seen as a minimum requirement for a resumption of talks in Vienna in an attempt to restore compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which President Donald J. Trump abandoned in 2018. President Biden wants to join the deal, but the talks, which have not resumed since June, have been hampered by Iran and the United States’ willingness to change or improve it. The nuclear deal essentially put strict limits on Iran’s ability to enrich uranium in return for the lifting of punitive economic sanctions.

Mr. Trump reinstated most of these sanctions and increased them; Iran has responded by breaking enrichment limits and is now much closer to having enough highly enriched uranium to create a nuclear weapon – something Tehran still insists it does not have. intention to do so.

The chief executive of the nuclear agency, Rafael M. Grossi, paid a quick visit to Iran over the weekend and worked out at least a temporary arrangement with Mohammad Eslami, the head of the country’s Atomic Energy Organization. .

In a joint statement released on Sunday, they agreed that IAEA inspectors could maintain surveillance equipment, which includes cameras, and replace their storage cards with new ones. But as agreed in a similar emergency deal last February, the contents of the storage cards are kept under seal and will only be released to the agency when and if Iran and the United States agree to a resumption of storage. the 2015 agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The IAEA, tasked with monitoring Iran’s nuclear program, increasingly criticizes Iran’s failure to cooperate with the agency and its long-standing refusal to provide explanations for the presence of traces of radioactive material on several sites or the current location of these materials. The agency’s frustration was detailed in two confidential quarterly reports submitted to the board last week.

The agency’s board meets on Monday, and European members, along with the United States, have threatened to censor Iran for its non-compliance. Iran and its new hard-line government led by President Ebrahim Raisi have threatened to drop nuclear arms talks in Vienna if a censorship resolution is passed.

China and Russia, also signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal, along with Britain, France, Germany and the United States, have pleaded for patience with Iran’s new government and against censorship. This led to the drama of Grossi’s last visit, which Russia negotiated with Iran.

But as time goes on and Iran gets closer to having enough material for a bomb – estimated Friday at only about a month by David Albright, a nuclear expert at the Institute for Science and Technology. international security, a research institution in Washington – the difficulty of relaunching the 2015 agreement is growing.

The deal was aimed at preventing Iran from having enough material for a bomb for at least 12 months. And critics say Iran’s growing knowledge of manufacturing and servicing modern centrifuges and uranium metal – banned by the 2015 accord – cannot be unlearned, let alone its distinct advances in missile technology.

European and American officials, such as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Robert Malley, the US special envoy to Iran who is handling the talks, said the period of reactivation of the nuclear deal was not over. “Not unlimited”. And Mr Raisi has yet to commit to a date to return to the Vienna talks. Countries in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Israel, have expressed concern over the expansion of Iran’s nuclear program.

Mr. Grossi’s trip may have momentarily resolved some of the complaints in one of the IAEA’s confidential reports, regarding lack of access to surveillance equipment. The agency also said it gained access on September 4 to a centrifuge assembly site damaged by sabotage, which Iran blamed on Israel. But one of the four cameras had been destroyed, its recording equipment missing and another damaged. It is not clear whether the recordings from the other cameras will be recoverable.

But the second report’s questions about radioactive traces found at four Iranian sites and summarized as “undeclared nuclear material and activities” have not been answered by Iran in an investigation opened since 2018.

“Lack of progress in clarifying the agency’s questions regarding the accuracy and completeness of Iran’s guarantee statements seriously affects the agency’s ability to provide assurance of the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program “, says the report.

On Sunday in Tehran, Mr. Grossi said: “I am happy to say that today we were able to have a very constructive result, which has to do with the continuity of the operation of the agency’s equipment here. He said the arrangement was “essential for us to provide the necessary assurance and information to the IAEA and to the world that everything is in order.”

Mr Eslami said Mr Grossi would return to Iran soon for further talks. He did not say whether Iran would end up handing over copies of the older recordings, which Tehran had previously threatened to destroy.

“Memory cards are sealed and kept in Iran on a routine basis,” Eslami said. “New memory cards will be installed in the cameras. This is a common and natural trend in the agency’s surveillance system.

nytimes Gt