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IAEA Iran visit opens window to restart nuclear diplomacy 

The nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency meets Tuesday, as an EU official says an agreement could be "positive” for Iran nuclear talks. 
Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Mohammad Eslami (R).

Iran may have staved off another censure resolution by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog, over its nuclear program and opened the door to another round of nuclear diplomacy after months of stalled talks over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), or Iran nuclear deal.

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi’s visit to Iran March 3-4, which included a meeting with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, came amidst heightened concerns after particles of uranium enriched at 83.7%, just below the weapons-grade level of 90%, were found at one of Iran’s nuclear facilities.

European officials were reportedly considering a resolution of censure at the IAEA meeting, while the United States sought to await the outcome of Grossi’s visit.

In a joint statement following Grossi's meetings, Iran committed to its obligations to the IAEA under the nuclear safeguard agreement, which is obligated as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (see our report here from last week).

The statement also noted that Iran will voluntarily “allow the IAEA to implement further appropriate verification and monitoring activities” while moving ahead to close outstanding issues regarding safeguards arrangements at three locations, a dispute that has become a stumbling block for Iran in the JCPOA talks. 

Grossi said that Iran agreed to re-install extra monitoring equipment and surveillance cameras at nuclear sites that it had removed following the US withdrawal from the JCPOA in 2018.  

Grossi referred to “a marked improvement” in his dialogue with the Iranian government.  

Technical follow-up meetings are expected in Tehran. 

State Department Spokesperson Ned Price today welcomed Grossi’s efforts in Iran and noted the "important steps” outlined in the joint statement. Price noted, however, that the United States expects Iran to follow up with "concrete actions" and "without delay” on the steps agreed upon with the IAEA.

Some Iranian officials meanwhile are seemingly questioning or walking back the commitments in the joint statement, Amwaj reported.   

It was a year ago this month that Grossi, while visiting Iran, agreed on an action plan for resolving the safeguards issue, which relates to pre-2003 allegations about Iran’s nuclear activities.   

That agreement collapsed under recriminations by Iran about IAEA intentions and subsequently made resolution of the issue a condition of the JCPOA talks, which broke down in September 2022. 

The positive signals coming from Grossi’s visit have given some hope for renewed diplomacy around Iran’s nuclear program. 

In his opening remarks to the IAEA Board of Governors in Vienna Monday, Grossi said his meetings in Iran were “steps in the right direction,” adding that “of course we should be measured in our judgement as there is a lot of work ahead of us.”

A senior Iranian diplomatic source told Al-Monitor that "Tehran wants a non-politicized engagement from the IAEA," stressing that “Iran was the most committed among all the countries in the world to the agency’s safeguards."

“We are eager not to miss any step within the framework of our commitments, even when we decided to retaliate to the breaches by the US, we made sure to keep within what the nuclear deal imposed," the source added.

Iran is always ready to return to the negotiating table under the ceiling of the 2015 nuclear deal, the source told Al-Monitor, but "other parties should respect the interests of the Iranian people."

“If the agreement is implemented, it will be positive for the JCPOA because it will make it easier to go back to the nuclear pact if we finally have such an agreement,” Enrique Mora, chief of staff to Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, told Al-Monitor.

“But most important now is that Iran's nuclear program can again be monitored by the agency; this is the key point,” added Mora, who also serves as the EU envoy to the nuclear talks.  

In response to a question from a reporter in Iran, Grossi said that a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be “outlawed,” prompting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to respond that Grossi “is a worthy person who made an unworthy remark.” 

The reporter was referring to threats by Israel of possible military action if Iran proceeds with the weaponization of its nuclear program. 

Israel Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer is in Washington today to discuss Iran policy with senior US officials.  

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