VIENNA – The head of the UN nuclear watchdog warned on Wednesday that his inspectors are on the verge of being unable to “guarantee” that they know the size of Iran’s enriched uranium reserves, a major alarm after his trip to Tehran will not yield results.
Rafael Mariano Grossi’s words were in stark contrast to the optimistic tone offered by his Iranian hosts the day before. They signal the Islamic Republic’s tougher line as renewed talks on Tehran’s ruined nuclear deal with world powers resume next week.
Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency remain unable to access surveillance footage and face increased challenges trying to monitor Tehran’s growing uranium reserves, some of which are now enriched to as much as 60 percent purity, a small technical step from the weapons grade levels of 90 percent.
“Our negotiations have not been conclusive, which means that we could not finish,” Grossi told reporters in Vienna, where the IAEA is based, after addressing the agency’s board of governors. “I’m not going to give up trying to find some understanding, but in terms of what we discussed yesterday, we couldn’t come to an agreement.”
When asked if any progress had been made, Grossi said “in substance terms, no, clearly, we couldn’t move forward.” However, he said that meeting the new Iranian officials was “a positive element” and “this will certainly help.”
But he warned: “We are close to the point where it could not guarantee continuity of knowledge.” He did not elaborate.
On Tuesday, Grossi went to the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, the country’s civilian nuclear agency, and met with its new director, Mohammad Eslami. He also met with Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, who said Iran was determined to have a “constructive engagement” with the IAEA to “enhance mutual trust and cooperation,” according to a report by state news agency IRNA. .
Under a confidential agreement called “Additional Protocol” with Iran, the IAEA collects and analyzes images from a series of surveillance cameras installed at Iranian nuclear sites. Those cameras helped him monitor Tehran’s program to see if it is complying with the nuclear deal.
Iran’s hardline parliament passed a bill in December 2020 that would suspend part of UN inspections of its nuclear facilities if European signatories did not provide relief from oil and banking sanctions in February. Since February, the IAEA has been unable to access surveillance camera footage.
Under the agreement, the IAEA also placed around 2,000 tamper-evident seals on nuclear material and equipment. Those stamps were communicated electronically to the inspectors. Automated measurement devices also provided real-time data from the program. Inspectors have also been unable to access that data, making the task of monitoring Iran’s enriched uranium reserves very difficult.
The agency has also sought to monitor activities at a centrifuge parts production site near the northern city of Karaj. The IAEA has not had access there since June after Iran said a sabotage attack by Israel significantly damaged IAEA facilities and an IAEA chamber there.
Grossi insisted on Wednesday that despite the lack of progress this week, a solution must be found. “We must come to an agreement,” he said. “We must do it.”
Senior diplomats from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia plan to meet with Iranian officials in Vienna on November 29 to discuss whether Tehran will once again comply with the 2015 agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which in return eased sanctions. against Iran. to curb its nuclear program. The talks could pave the way for the United States to rejoin the agreement.
The United States withdrew under former President Donald Trump and reimposed sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to abandon all limits imposed by the agreement. That has increased tensions across the Middle East, as Israel has warned that it will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.
Iran has long insisted that its program is peaceful, although the IAEA and US intelligence agencies say Tehran had an organized weapons program until 2003.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Iran’s deputy foreign minister and nuclear negotiator, Ali Bagheri Kani, traveled to the United Arab Emirates and met with a prominent Emirati diplomat, Anwar Gargash. The UAE’s state-run WAM news agency described the meeting as a topic of “regional and international developments of common interest.”