Iran’s growing concerns about IAEA’s neutrality may hamper chances of JCPOA revival 

A resolution against Iran, drafted and pushed by the US and its allies, was passed at the IAEA meeting on June 8, marking a new low in the Iran-IAEA confrontation

June 14, 2022 by Abdul Rahman
(Photo: Tehran Times)

The Board of Governors (BoG) of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) passed a resolution censuring Iran in a meeting on June 8 at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna. The resolution was drafted and pushed by the US and its allies. The passing of the resolution marks a new beginning in the Iran-IAEA confrontation. Iran has accused the IAEA of being biased and the development has made the revival of the Iran nuclear deal or the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action more difficult.  

The resolution to censure Iran talks about its “insufficient cooperation” with the IAEA and the alleged failure to explain traces of uranium found at “three undeclared locations” inside the country along with the storage of highly enriched uranium beyond the prescribed limits. 

Tehran called the censure motion “political, wrongful and unconstructive.” Following the resolution, Tehran Times in an editorial on Friday claimed that “the IAEA has turned into a political tool in the hands of Western countries to extract concessions they failed to get during eight rounds of talks in Vienna over reviving a 2015 nuclear deal.”

The IAEA’s action came after two reports claimed that traces of uranium were found at three different locations in Iran and that it has accumulated 43 kg of over 60% enriched uranium. 

IAEA’s neutrality under question 

Iran had claimed that these reports were prepared by Israel and are “fake and fabricated”. It officially took exception to IAEA chief Rafael Grossi’s visit to Israel days before the BoG meeting. 

As per its statute adopted in 1956, the IAEA works on the UN principle of cooperation for the peaceful use of atomic technology and promoting disarmament. Iran claims that instead of questioning Israel’s own record on nuclear disarmament, Grossi decided to visit the country and provided legitimacy to its illegal nuclear program. 

During his meeting with Grossi, Israeli Prime Minister Nafatli Bennett was reported as saying that his country has the right to carry out “preemptive strikes” against the supposed Iranian nuclear program. 

Iran’s representative at the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, while speaking to its governing council, questioned the silence over the killing of Iranian scientists and the numerous attempts to sabotage Iran’s nuclear sites by Israel. 

Iran claimed that the IAEA is ready to listen to Israel over Iran, despite the fact that Israel is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and is known to have an unknown number of nuclear weapons in violations of international norms, while Iran is a signatory to the NPT and has repeatedly declared its intentions of not developing nuclear weapons. 

Even the IAEA BoG refused to acknowledge that Iran is deliberately defying provisions of the JCPOA, signed in 2015, which limits the level of enrichment and storage of uranium by the country. Iran claims that it cannot be expected to fulfill the provisions of the deal unilaterally after the US chose to withdraw from it in 2018.  

Mohammad Eslami, the head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI), said after the vote in the BoG meeting on Thursday that “it is regrettable that an international institution has been exploited by an illegitimate regime and its reputation has been questioned.” He added that Iran’s “good faith and optimism have not been taken into consideration.” 

Iran’s strong records of cooperation with IAEA

Iran is one of the original signatories of the NPT and has always claimed that its nuclear program is for legal and peaceful purposes. It has allowed extensive inspection of its nuclear sites as per the safeguards agreement signed with the IAEA in 1974. Meanwhile, there is no such IAEA inspection program in Israel.   

Iran also agreed to allow large-scale physical verification of its nuclear sites as per the provisions of JCPOA. Prior to 2018, Iran’s strong record of cooperation with the IAEA has been praised by the organization’s earlier heads.  

It was only in 2021 that the Iranian parliament withdrew consent for physical verification of Iran’s nuclear sites and expelled the IAEA inspectors. The step was taken following the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in late 2020. It was also considered to be a part of its so-called “corrective measures” undertaken post the US withdrawal from the JCPOA.

Iran has since been enriching uranium at a higher percentage and is also storing highly enriched uranium at levels greater than allowed in the JCPOA, with the promise of a complete reversal once the deal is revived.   

Additionally, even after withdrawing the consent for physical verification, Iran signed a deal with the IAEA in February 2021 to install cameras at its nuclear sites to record proceedings. These recordings are expected to be handed over to the IAEA once the JCPOA is revived. 

Both Russia and China have called the US-sponsored resolution a hasty and unnecessary move and voted against it. The Russian ambassador to the IAEA even called the resolution “stupid” which can harm the prospects of Iranian compliance in the future.  

The resolution prompted an Iranian response as well. The Iranian government decided to remove 27 cameras from different nuclear sites, which it claimed were voluntarily installed and were not part of its safeguards deal with the IAEA.  

Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesperson of Iran’s nuclear agency, claimed that Iran is looking at more such responses as “it is not acceptable for Iran to continue cooperation, whilst the other side does not show proper behavior.”

Uncertain future of JCPOA

Claiming that the IAEA’s work in Iran has been seriously affected since February 2021, Rossi, in an unconventional move, immediately held a press conference after the Iranian decision to remove 27 cameras from its nuclear sites. He warned that the decision may be fatal for the revival of the nuclear deal. He did not acknowledge that Iran has not gone back on its compliance and still has over 40 cameras installed as per their understanding. 

The future of the JCPOA is uncertain. The Joe Biden administration in the US has failed to lift the sanctions imposed on Iran by the previous Donald Trump administration under its so-called “maximum pressure campaign.” 

The Biden administration’s reluctance to undo Trump’s anti-Iran policies and strong Israeli objections to attempts to revive the deal have already stalled the talks in Vienna. The IAEA’s stance may make it even more difficult to revive the deal now.