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Iran’s compromise with the UN nuclear watchdog offers time for negotiations, however offers inspectors “much less entry”

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Iranian Foreign Minister Saied Khatibzadeh gesticulates during a press conference in Tehran on February 22, 2021. Iran hailed as a “significant achievement” a temporary agreement that Tehran had made with the head of the UN nuclear watchdog during on-site inspections.

Photo by ATTA KENARE | AFP via Getty Images

Iran and the United Nations nuclear watchdog reached a compromise late Sunday to avert the effects of a deadline set by Tehran for nuclear inspectors to be expelled from the country.

Emergency talks took place in Tehran after Iran announced that it would suspend nuclear inspections unless urgent sanctions were imposed.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has now said it has reached an agreement with Iran to continue the “necessary monitoring” of the country’s nuclear activities for up to three months, although its officials have not elaborated on what that monitoring would mean.

The Iranian parliament had previously decided to suspend its so-called additional protocol with the IAEA if the US oil and banking sanctions were not lifted by this week, which means that much of the rigorous inspections carried out by the UN agency as part of the Iranian The 2015 nuclear deal will end.

“The additional protocol is suspended,” IAEA chief Rafael Grossi told reporters in Vienna on Sunday evening after his return from Tehran. “We’ve been able to keep the level of monitoring and verification work required,” he said, adding, “There’s less access, let’s face it.”

However, the fact that inspectors continue to have access prevents a much worse escalation that would have left the international community completely in the dark about Iran’s nuclear activities.

The IAEA’s “technical understanding” with Iran is crucial in order to gain time for possible diplomacy, said the director.

“The IAEA hoped to stabilize a very unstable situation,” said Grossi. “And I think this technical understanding makes it so that other policy consultations can take place at other levels, and most importantly, we can avoid a situation where we would have flown virtually blind.”

Sanction distance

Tensions remain high. On the Sunday before the compromise was reached, the Iranian authorities threatened to turn off the IAEA cameras set up under the Additional Protocol Agreement. The agency has additional protocols with several countries.

In Iran, the IAEA “collects and analyzes hundreds of thousands of images every day taken by its sophisticated surveillance cameras,” adding in 2017 that it has placed “2,000 tamper-evident seals on nuclear materials and equipment”.

Joe Biden’s administration wants to revert to the nuclear deal from which the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew in 2018. However, Iran says it will not join the negotiations until Washington lifts certain sanctions. Something that Biden says he will not do if Iran does not reverse its violations of the nuclear deal.

The Iranian nuclear deal was signed in 2015 between the US, Iran and several world powers to lift economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for restricting its nuclear program. It has been life sustaining since the US withdrew, and Iran has since gradually broken more and more of its rules, including building new advanced equipment and storing and enriching uranium well beyond the limits of the agreement. Tehran claims that its activities are only for peaceful purposes.

Iranian officials stress that their violations of the agreement can be reversed if they see Washington commit to its own obligations under the agreement.

“The Europeans and Americans have bleakly failed to meet their obligations,” said Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif at the weekend. “As soon as they are fully compliant again, we will be fully compliant again.”

“The Iranians need money”

Last week the Biden government offered to resume talks with Iran in the US’s largest diplomatic overture for the country in more than four years. But Iran has so far refused to budge. they say it wants the sanctions to be lifted first. This is partly unlikely, as Biden faces significant domestic criticism if he appears too “soft” on Iran.

Ultimately, however, some believe that Iran’s return to the deal is inevitable – if only because the Iranian economy has been crippled by sanctions and needs economic relief.

“I think a deal is finally possible because the Iranians need money,” Richard Goldberg of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies told CNBC on Monday.

In the meantime, countries remain at odds as the nuclear deal reaches a critical moment. The three-month grace period agreed between the IAEA and Iran could be an important window for Washington and Tehran to work out their demands and to agree on the order of possible concessions, experts say.

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Katherine Clark