Iran threatens to quit IAEA pact over censure from west

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor
·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Wana News Agency/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Wana News Agency/Reuters

Iran has threatened to pull out of a deal struck with UN weapons inspectors last weekend if western countries go ahead with plans to censure it over its failure to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Authority.

Western leaders are planning to table a motion at the IAEA next week condemning Iran for pulling out of the overarching agreement with the UN body giving inspectors access to its nuclear sites.

The IAEA director general, Rafael Grossi, responded to the Iranian pullout by striking a three-month deal in Tehran last Sunday that he said left him satisfied that his inspectors could still continue to do their work, albeit less effectively than before.

But the US and some European countries appear to be determined to put down a marker at the IAEA that Iran is behaving unacceptably by reducing its cooperation with the inspectors and by breaking its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal on issues such as uranium enrichment stockpiles.

In a paper sent to other IAEA member states before next week’s quarterly board of governor’s meeting in Vienna, the US said it wanted a resolution to “express the board’s deepening concern with respect to Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA”.

It said the board should call on Iran to reverse its breaches of the deal and cooperate with the IAEA to explain how uranium particles came to be found at old, undeclared sites.

Iran said it viewed such a move as “destructive” and it would end its weekend deal with Grossi. Iranian diplomats said the US motion would lead to further complications in relation to the 2015 agreement, known as the JCPoA.

Russia’s ambassador to the IAEA, Mikhail Ulyanov, called for calm, saying: “The common responsibility of all 35 governors is to ensure that the debates (even heated) do not negatively affect diplomatic efforts aimed at full restoration of the JCPoA.”

It is likely to be the US that will make the call on whether the motion is tabled.

Some analysts have said the motion is poorly timed and is likely to backfire, endangering the chances of broader talks going ahead between Iran and the US overseen by the European Union – the first such talks since Donald Trump pulled out of the JCPoA in 2018.

Ellie Geranmayeh, an Iran analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the motion would not garner Russian support and only lead to a backlash in Tehran.

The US has offered to hold talks with Iran on how both sides can come back into mutual compliance with the deal, under EU chairmanship, and then at a later stage hold talks on how to improve the deal and discuss other issues including Iran’s ballistic missiles.

In a possible sign that some European diplomats are concerned that the board motion may put unnecessary obstacles in the way of talks, the EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said there was “diplomatic space, a diplomatic window of opportunity” to bring the JCPoA back on track.

Iran wants as a precondition for talks that the US lift all economic sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, but the US has said it can only discuss such issue when talks are under way.

The relatively sedate pace at which the Biden team are taking the prospect of direct talks with Iran is frustrating Tehran, but the US does not appear to see a need for a breakthrough in talks in case a hardliner prevails in June’s presidential election in Iran.

The US appears to think Iran’s approach to the US will not be determined by the new president but by whatever strategic consensus is formed around the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.