Iran appears to have partially lifted its threat to severely curtail international inspections of its nuclear facilities from Tuesday. Western states have three months to consider whether the beginnings of a new diplomatic initiative with the United States and Europe will restore the 2015 nuclear deal.
After a weekend trip to Tehran, Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said on Sunday that his inspectors would have “less access” as of Tuesday, but could continue to monitor the main manufacturing sites where Iran has said it is making nuclear materials. He did not describe what these new limits would look like, but said that some of Iran’s new restrictions would be on a three-month hiatus under a “technical appendix” that was not made public.
At the same time, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif stated that, under a law passed by the country’s parliament, Tehran will no longer honor an agreement with the nuclear authority that gives inspectors the right to request access to any place they may have a nuclear one Activity occurred. He also said that inspectors would be prevented from obtaining footage from surveillance cameras that are constantly monitoring some of the sites.
The vague announcement appeared to be part of the maneuver in Iran on how to respond to an offer by the Biden administration to resume diplomatic contact to restore the deal that President Donald J. Trump abandoned nearly three years ago. President Biden and Foreign Minister Antony J. Blinken offered to join the European nations in the first substantial diplomacy with Tehran in more than four years.
“Iran has not yet responded,” said Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security advisor, on CBS’s Face the Nation program on Sunday. “But what happened is that the script was flipped. It’s Iran, which is now diplomatically isolated, not the United States. And the ball is in their field.”
Iran has steadily sought to increase pressure on Washington to lift sanctions by gradually increasing the amount of nuclear fuel it produces and by announcing that it will begin enriching uranium at higher levels, closer to bomb grade material. The threat to curtail the inspectors was part of that effort.
But now the Iranians are in a corner they created themselves: with a presidential election in four months, no one wants to appear weak in the face of international pressure.
Iranian leaders also recognize that the election of Mr Biden offers them the best chance since 2018 to lift sanctions – and international oil sales are flowing. To do this, the production limits stipulated in the 2015 deal must be restored. The agreement also obliges Iran to undergo rapid inspections of undeclared sites under what is known as the Additional Protocol, the rules most members of the International Atomic Energy Agency adhere to, in order to give the inspectors broader rights.
Both Mr. Grossi and White House officials seemed anxious to avoid any suggestion that the restrictions on inspectors would create a crisis like the one experienced by the Clinton administration in 1994 when North Korea evicted the agency’s inspectors and raced for a bomb . If so, the inspectors will continue their work in Iran even if their vision of nuclear fuel production and their ability to understand past nuclear activity are limited.
“Grossi has alleviated some of the damage,” said Andrea Stricker, a research fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, which has significantly criticized the Iran deal, on Sunday. She added, however, that “reduced surveillance in any form is extremely problematic due to the great nuclear advances Iran has made,” especially after the agency began asking questions about previous nuclear activity at sites where there is evidence of radioactive material had been found.
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“The I.A.E.A. must publish the technical agreement and explain exactly how the surveillance has been reduced so that the international community can assess the severity of the Iranian move,” said Ms. Stricker.
Henry Rome, an Iran expert at Eurasia Group, said the announcement on Sunday “presents an opening, but we’re not out of the woods yet”, noting that the country continued to expand its uranium enrichment process and run new, more advanced centrifuges to produce the fuel.
The announcement that Iran had found a kind of accommodation with Mr. Grossi that could provide time for diplomacy, triggered reactions from all political groups in Iran. And the lack of details from the country’s Atomic Energy Agency and the International Nuclear Agency gave material to both those who wanted to restore the deal and those who found it far too restrictive on Iran’s capabilities.
Conservative commentators used social media to criticize the government for bypassing the law passed by parliament in January restricting access to inspectors.
“Bypass the law?” Seyed Nezameddin Mousavi, a Conservative lawmaker, tweeted on Sunday suggesting that the government tried to circumvent parliament’s actions. “It looks like my fear was justified.”
Proponents of diplomacy praised the government for thinking creatively about how to recognize legal requirements without removing inspectors. Some suggested that the compromise included Iran agreeing to keep the footage recorded by surveillance cameras monitoring fuel production but not handing it over to inspectors until the 2015 deal is restored.
“At this point the Iranians agreed more than meets the eye, but if the I.A.E.A. To be fully satisfied, there has to be continuity of knowledge, ”said Ali Vaez, Iranian director of the International Crisis Group. “It basically postponed the crisis.”
Rick Gladstone Contribution to reporting.