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IAEA-Iran Deal Further Isolates US on Snapback

Copyright © 2021 Energy Intelligence Group

Tehran this week dealt a blow to Washington's bid to trigger a "snapback" of UN sanctions against Iran, suspended by the 2015 nuclear deal, by agreeing to allow international access to two sites where there are unanswered questions about possible unreported nuclear material from before 2015. Had this not happened, the wall of UN Security Council opposition to the US snapback effort could potentially have cracked, considering that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) might have been compelled to submit a safeguards "noncompliance" report to the council against Iran in September. The Aug. 26 IAEA-Iran joint statement in which both sides "agreed to further reinforce their cooperation" and resolve "safeguards implementation issues specified by the IAEA" represented a major breakthrough after Iran's persistent refusal to cooperate on a matter it regarded as a political ploy by the US and Israel ultimately aimed at obtaining a reinstatement of UN sanctions. By allowing agency inspectors into the two sites, Tehran removed a significant cudgel Washington may have been hoping to use to dismantle the near unanimous Security Council opposition to the US snapback effort (NIW Aug.21'20). Of the Security Council's 15 members, 13 have now submitted formal letters arguing against the legality of the US move given Washington's withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal (EC Aug.28'20). This prompted the Trump administration to effectively go it alone. "These sanctions will snap back at midnight GMT on [Sep.] 20," US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared in a tweet Thursday, Aug. 27. How Washington proposes to enforce a snapback based on its unilateral contention that it is within its rights as a "participant" under UN Resolution 2231 that endorsed the deal remains to be seen. The IAEA-Iran agreement follows months of efforts by Washington to drum up support for its case against Iran from the IAEA board by claiming that Iran's refusal to allow access to the suspect sites suggested possible ongoing activities with a military dimension. These efforts largely succeeded: In March the safeguards compliance issue was outlined in an unusual IAEA safeguards report presented to the agency's Board of Governors (NIW Mar.13'20). At the June board meeting, based on a second more detailed safeguards report, Washington persuaded a majority of board members to approve a resolution calling on Iran "to fully cooperate" with the agency's requests for access to suspect sites. Tehran has now effectively agreed to do so (related). The IAEA agreement was met with enthusiasm by countries ranging from Russia to the UK, an important US ally. "This is excellent news that Iran is enabling IAEA to carry out the accesses it has requested," tweeted Dave Hall, the UK's ambassador to the agency. "A very positive indication of the health of the IAEA and its safeguards regime." Russia's ambassador, Mihail Ulyanov, called the development a "Real breakthrough! ... This is yet another proof that dialogue is more productive than pressure. Congratulations to both sides!" The US State Department was less enthusiastic. "Access is only the first step," it said in a statement. "Iran must provide nothing short of full cooperation, and the IAEA needs answers to its questions about potential undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran." Washington "must be relieved" that the access has been granted," opined a diplomat in Vienna, but in the midst of its effort in the UN, he noted, "it makes it harder for the US to say" the Iranians "aren't following international agreements on safeguards, on nonproliferation." Impeccable Timing The diplomatic breakthrough occurred with impeccable timing and Iran lost no time staging a high-profile press conference in Tehran with IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi and Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. "A new chapter of cooperation between Iran and the IAEA will start," declared Salehi. The agency apparently agreed to lay to rest any further questions related solely to information in the cache of documents outlining prior Iranian nuclear activities which were seized by Israeli agents in 2018 and subsequently handed over to the agency. "In this present context," said the joint statement, "based on analysis of available information to the IAEA, the IAEA does not have further questions to Iran and further requests for access to locations other than those declared by Iran" under its comprehensive safeguards agreement with the agency or under the Additional Protocol, which Iran currently recognizes on a de facto basis. The matter of the Israeli archive was a major stumbling block during months of negotiations between the agency and Iran. "They [the Iranians] didn't want to be held hostage to this archive forever," the Vienna-based diplomat told Energy Intelligence. "They were willing to grant access [to the sites] but they wanted the issue to be over." While the language in the statement "appears to accommodate their interest," he added, Iran "might have preferred" language that specifically mentioned the cache and explicitly stating that there would be "no more requests based solely on the archives." Considering this, he said, "it's fantastic they managed to reach agreement on the language." On the other hand, Iran had compelling reasons for a compromise. Given that the matter had already escalated to the board level, had the agreement not been reached Grossi likely would have been compelled to issue a noncompliance report ahead of the next quarterly board meeting, which starts Sep. 14, the diplomat said. The next step after that would have been to refer the matter to the Security Council and "that could have led to the implementation of snapback," he added. "Now this track is apparently closed." Stephanie Cooke, Washington

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