The UN’s atomic watchdog has said Iran has agreed to the reinstallation of cameras and other monitoring equipment at its facilities after months of mounting western concerns about the country’s nuclear programme.
Iran removed more than 20 cameras and other equipment from its nuclear plants last year, escalating its stand-off with the west in what appeared to be a retaliatory move after members of the International Atomic Energy Agency issued a resolution criticising Tehran over its nuclear activity.
But after a two-day visit to the Islamic republic, IAEA director-general Rafael Mariano Grossi said on Saturday that Tehran had agreed to reinstall the equipment, which is vital for the watchdog’s ability to monitor Iran.
Grossi said a “marked improvement, at least in terms of my dialogue with the Iranian government, has been registered”.
In a joint statement, the IAEA and Tehran also said: “Iran, on a voluntary basis, will allow the watchdog to implement further appropriate verification and monitoring activities.” It said the modalities would be worked out at a future meeting in Tehran.
The statement added that Iran had “expressed its readiness” to co-operate on other outstanding “safeguarding issues”, which relates to a longstanding IAEA probe into past nuclear activity at three undeclared sites within the country.
Western powers have repeatedly accused the regime of stymieing that investigation and becoming more hostile towards and less co-operative with the watchdog as tensions over Iran’s nuclear programme have increased.
Grossi’s trip to Tehran, where he met Iranian nuclear officials and President Ebrahim Raisi, came ahead of an IAEA governors’ board meeting on Monday, at which the agency’s members can vote to censure Iran. It also followed leaks that the watchdog in January discovered particles of uranium enriched to around 84 per cent purity, which is close to weapons grade, at Iran’s Fordow plant.
It is not clear whether the particles were part of a deliberate plan by Iran to increase its enrichment or created accidentally. Tehran has not explicitly addressed the discovery but has expressed frustration over leaks of IAEA reports.
Iran has been ramping up its nuclear activity since 2019, a year after former US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 accord Tehran signed with world powers.
Under the terms of the deal with the US, Germany, UK, France, Russia and China, Iran had agreed to one of the IAEA’s strictest monitoring programmes, including limits on its nuclear activity such as only enriching uranium to no higher than 3.67 per cent purity, in return for sanctions relief.
But after Trump abandoned the deal and imposed waves of crippling sanctions on Iran, Tehran openly increased its uranium enrichment to 60 per cent purity — its highest-ever level — expanded its stockpiles of enriched uranium and developed advanced centrifuges.
When asked by reporters about the discovery of the particles enriched to 84 per cent purity, Grossi said “we don’t judge intentions, we saw an event which is worthy of clarification”.
“We have information on a certain level of enrichment, in a certain facility. After taking some samples we see a peak, sometimes in this type of facilities there can be oscillations or peaks that can be accidental or limited in time, but it can be otherwise,” he added.
Grossi said Iran had also agreed to increase the “intensity of inspection” at the Fordow facility, saying “it’s a very important step forwards”.
He added that Tehran allowing cameras and other online monitoring to be reinstalled was crucial.
“We are losing information on certain areas which are very important . . . in particular in the context of the possibility of the revival of the JCPOA [2015 accord],” said Grossi.
“We have put a tourniquet on the bleeding of information . . . now we can start working again, reconstructing these baselines of information, and these are not words, this is very concrete,” he added.
After President Joe Biden took office pledging that the US would rejoin the 2015 nuclear accord and lift many sanctions on Iran if Tehran fell back into compliance with the deal, there was cautious optimism that the agreement could be revived.
But after more than a year of indirect talks between the Biden administration and Iran, diplomatic efforts to save the moribund deal have stalled. Western officials last year accused Tehran of blocking attempts to get an agreement over the line.
US and European officials have since said diplomatic efforts to revive the nuclear deal have in effect been shelved, as relations with Iran have further deteriorated in the wake of Tehran’s violent crackdown on protesters last year and after its decision to sell armed drones to Russia that have been used in war against Ukraine.
Iran has blamed the US for the failure of the nuclear talks.
Raisi told Grossi in a meeting in Tehran that his country’s nuclear programme had turned into an “excuse” for the US and Israel to exert pressure on the republic. According to Iranian media, he also called on the IAEA to “observe impartiality” in its reports about Iran’s “peaceful” plan.