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11/24/2021 | News release | Distributed by Public on 11/24/2021 09:05

Time running out after Tehran talks fail: IAEA

Director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Grossi said negotiations he held in Tehran with Iranian officials over Iran's nuclear activities this week were "inconclusive," setting the stage for a difficult return to talks in Vienna next week.

Grossi travelled to Tehran on 22 November for discussions with the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI) Mohammad Eslami and Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian to secure a commitment to allow the IAEA to reinstall several cameras at a centrifuge facility in Karaj, which Iran said had been attacked earlier this year.

But today, following his return from the Iranian capital last night, Grossi said that despite his "best efforts," he was not able to reach an agreement with the Iranians. "Our consultations, or negotiations, have been inconclusive, meaning what we could not finish," Grossi said. "We are still talking, but not in terms of dotting the i's and crossing the t's. We are constantly talking".

Iran and the IAEA in September reached a deal to allow the agency a degree of continued, albeit limited, access to several of Iran's key nuclear sites. The agreement came despite the passing of a law in February calling on the government to scale back its cooperation with the IAEA. The law essentially prohibited the government to continue its voluntary implementation of the so-called 'Additional Protocol' - a clause in the nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), that allowed for more intrusive inspections of Iran's atomic activities. It also ended the IAEA's right to make snap inspections at locations not previously declared to it.

Under the September deal, the IAEA was permitted to service any monitoring equipment it identified as needing repair and replace their storage media. But Iran and the AIEO seemingly went back on their word since, arguing that it was "not necessary" to replace the cameras at Karaj, as it went beyond the terms of the JCPOA.

"I want to restore the monitoring and verification capacities that we need," Grossi said today. Grossi said the ongoing stalemate has left the IAEA "close to the point" where he would not be able to guarantee "continuity of knowledge" about Iran's activities.

"It is obvious that such a long period of time without us getting access to know whether there are operational activities ongoing is something that, in itself, would at some point prevent me from continuing to say that I have an idea of what is going on," he said.

US nuclear experts, drawing on Iran's and IAEA reporting, suggest that the so-called "breakout time" for Iran to assemble a functioning nuclear weapon has dropped to one month, down from the JCPOA-mandated 12 months. That estimate reflects Iran's claim of having enriched 114kg of uranium to 20pc and a further 18kg to 60pc - still not suitable for a nuclear bomb, according to non-profit Arms Control Association's Kelsey Davenport. Tehran denies pursuing a military nuclear programme.

Grossi said that although no date had yet been set for a next round of meetings with Iran, the two sides agreed to stay "in close contact".

JCPOA talks around the corner

Grossi's comments followed a pre-scheduled meeting of the IAEA board of governors, in which Iran's nuclear programme was high on the agenda. Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia's top envoy to the Vienna-based international organisations said the Iranian issue had triggered "heated debates" in the meeting.

In the run-up to these meetings, European members and the US typically threaten to condemn Iran for its non-compliance with a resolution. But with indirect talks between Iran and the US over a mutual return to the 2015 nuclear deal set to resume early next week after a more-than-five-month hiatus, these threats were always unlikely to materialise. Iran's president Ebrahim Raisi has previously warned that any such resolutions could prompt Iran to walk away from the JCPOA talks for good.

By Nader Itayim