Iran paved the way for sanctions relief by agreeing to help end a contentious nuclear investigation, removing one of the final hurdles to an atomic deal that could see Iranian oil return to markets by the third quarter.
The agreement was announced on Saturday in Tehran between International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi and Iran’s nuclear chief Mohammad Eslami. Potentially, it represents a key step toward restoring a 2015 agreement that curbed the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
“We reviewed the outstanding issues and reached the conclusion to exchange necessary documents between the Atomic Energy Organization and the IAEA by May 21 at the latest,” Eslami said. “These issues should be resolved by the day of return to the nuclear deal.”
After the IAEA has received the documents and inspectors have reviewed the evidence, Grossi will send a report with his conclusions to the agency’s board by the end of June, according to a statement.
“Iran has committed to work with us,” Grossi said late Saturday at a briefing after his return. “Three months is a very reasonable time-frame to reach a conclusion. We have to work with determination and expediency.”
If successfully implemented, the pact with the IAEA removes one of the last remaining hurdles for Iran to resume JCPOA compliance and increase oil exports. The Trump administration abandoned the deal four years ago and unilaterally imposed U.S. sanctions, prompting Iran to retaliate by ramping up its nuclear activities beyond the levels agreed in the JCPOA. Negotiators have been huddled in Vienna for more than 10 months trying to salvage the accord.
The “practical and pragmatic approach” to assessing the documents should help IAEA investigators answer questions about the origin of uranium particles detected at several undeclared sites, according to Grossi. It would be “difficult to imagine” a return to the so-called JCPOA agreement without clarifying the probe, he said.
Negotiations are continuing in Vienna over outstanding issues, which include Iranian demands for guarantees that the U.S. won’t torpedo the accord again. The IAEA’s Grossi is scheduled to give a press briefing at 7:30 p.m. in Vienna.
While the IAEA isn’t a formal party to the JCPOA, its inspectors guarantee that the agreement is being followed by verifying the amount of nuclear material in Iran. They discovered trace amounts of man-made uranium at several locations during a probe that was triggered by a cache of documents smuggled out of Iran by Israeli spies. Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz said last month at the Munich Security Conference that it was essential for the IAEA to continue investigating Iran, even in the event of a revived deal.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov introduced a note of caution during a briefing on Saturday, suggesting U.S. sanctions guarantees could yet be necessary before the final agreement is implemented, Interfax reported. The JCPOA requires Russia to convert Iran’s Fordow enrichment facility into an industrial isotope production plant. Iran has also used Russia to ship out excess uranium inventories.
The U.S. has imposed tough and wide-ranging sanctions on Russia’s economy since it started its war on Ukraine on Feb. 24, but the two nations have continued to collaborate at negotiations in Vienna.
The May 21 deadline to resolve the investigation could fit into the staged timeline under which diplomats are preparing to reboot the JCPOA. That will begin with confidence-building measures that allow a U.S. return to the deal, followed by more substantive commitments that reduce Iran’s nuclear stocks in exchange for sanctions relief. An agreement to resume compliance could be concluded within days, allowing the Persian Gulf nation access to international markets after a couple months.
The IAEA’s 35-member board of governors convenes its quarterly meeting to discuss the Iran probe on Tuesday.
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