This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
The United Nations’ atomic agency warns that time is running out for it to gain access to reinstall cameras at a workshop in Iran that makes parts for advanced centrifuges, saying its inspectors will soon be unable to “guarantee” equipment there is not being diverted to a potential secret nuclear program.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Secretary-General Rafael Grossi issued the warning on November 24, one day after a trip to Tehran that failed to produce a breakthrough to restore the agency’s ability to fully monitor Iran’s nuclear program.
Grossi said his talks in the Iranian capital “proved inconclusive,” while Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said the sides agreed to continue consultations.
The United States said IAEA’s impasse on monitoring Iran’s program bode ill ahead of planned negotiations in Vienna next week aimed at reviving a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.
The IAEA has sought monitoring of activities at the centrifuge-parts-production site near Karaj that was hit by an alleged act of sabotage in June.
Tehran has since refused to allow IAEA access, citing an ongoing investigation into the incident, which Tehran blames on Israel.
Iran said one of four IAEA cameras there was destroyed in the attack, and that all the cameras were later removed.
The agency has repeatedly said it has no indication that Iran currently has a secret nuclear weapons program, while Tehran insists its nuclear program is peaceful.
“We are close to the point where I would not be able to guarantee continuity of knowledge,” Grossi told a news conference on November 24, the first day of a quarterly meeting of the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors.
“It is obvious that such a long period of time without us getting access, knowing whether there are operational activities ongoing, is something that in itself would at some point prevent me from continuing to say, ‘I have an idea of what is going on’,” he said.
The United States said Iran should let the IAEA reinstall cameras at Karaj “immediately” and that a continuing standoff over that matter would complicate efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
“Resumption of mutual compliance with the JCPOA will be increasingly difficult the longer the gap in continuity of knowledge regarding key JCPOA commitments,” it said in a statement to the Board of Governors.
Despite the inconclusive results of Grossi’s trip to Tehran, diplomats said no action is likely to be taken by the IAEA board against Iran at the meeting for fear of damaging upcoming talks on reviving the deal.
Under former President Donald Trump, the United States in 2018 withdrew from the deal intended to curtail Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. Tehran has since consistently stepped up activity in its nuclear program, including expanding its stockpile of enriched uranium.
Trump’s successor, Joe Biden, has expressed interest in rejoining the pact if Iran returns to full compliance.
However, indirect negotiations between the deal’s signatories that started in April in Vienna were put on hold in June after the election in Iran of hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi as president.
Grossi’s visit to Iran, his third since February, came ahead of talks with world powers in Vienna on November 29 — the first since Raisi’s election.
The remaining signatories to the 2015 deal — Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia — will join the talks while the United States will participate indirectly.
The State Department reiterated that Washington was ready to negotiate in Vienna.
“But of course Iran’s failure to cooperate is a bad sign about their seriousness in a successful conclusion to our negotiations,” a spokesperson said, according to AFP.