Extending deal with IAEA possible, Iran says 

May 10, 2021 - 16:19

TEHRAN – Iran on Monday voiced conditional readiness to extend a deal with the UN nuclear watchdog that is set to expire in few weeks, saying the extension of the temporary deal would depend on the Vienna talks moving in the right direction. 

Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesman for the Iranian Foreign Ministry, announced that extending Iran’s cooperation deal with the International Atomic Energy Agency is one of the country’s options a day after top Iranian negotiator signaled a readiness to extend the deal.

Khatibzadeh was referring to a February deal between Iran and the IAEA which allowed the latter to continue its monitoring activities in Iran ahead of the implementation of a parliamentary nuclear law obligating the Iranian government to strictly restrict cooperation with the IAEA in case the West failed to lift sanctions.

The deal was reached during a two-day visit by IAEA Director-General Mariano Grossi to Iran. During the visit, Grossi met with Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

The AEOI issued a joint statement outlining the content of the understanding moments after Grossi concluded his visit to Iran.

“The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency recalled and reaffirmed the spirit of cooperation and enhanced mutual trust that led to the Joint Statement in Tehran on 26 August 2020, and the importance of continuing that cooperation and trust,” the statement said. “The AEOI informed the IAEA that in order to comply with the act passed by the Parliament of the Islamic Republic of Iran called ‘Strategic Action to Cease Actions and Protect the interest of Iranian Nation’ Iran will stop the implementation of the voluntary measures as envisaged in the JCPOA, as of 23 February 2021.”

The statement added, “In view of the above and in order for the Agency to continue its verification and monitoring activities, the AEOI and the IAEA agreed: 1. That Iran continues to implement fully and without limitation its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA as before. 2. To a temporary bilateral technical understanding, compatible with the Law, whereby the IAEA will continue with its necessary verification and monitoring activities for up to 3 months (as per technical annex). 3. To keep the technical understanding under regular review to ensure it continues to achieve its purposes.”

On Sunday, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araghchi, who is leading Iran’s negotiating team in Vienna, said the deal may be extended.

He told Japanese broadcaster NHK that Iran hopes enough progress will be made so that there will be no need for an extension. But he said that if needed, Iran will consider an extension at a proper time.

Khatibzadeh elaborated on Araghchi’s comments, underlining that what Araghchi said was that the parliamentary nuclear law was binding and it will expire on May 30.

The nuclear law stipulates that the Iranian government should take certain nuclear measures such as raising the level of uranium enrichment to 20% and suspending the voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol if the Western parties failed to honor their obligations under the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran’s deal with the IAEA came a few days before the law came into force. 
Speaking at his Monday press conference, Khatibzadeh said, “What Dr. Araghchi said in the interview with NHK is that the law of the parliament is binding and the date of May 30 regarding the agreement between Iran and the IAEA is definitive.”

The spokesman said Iran is not in a hurry to reach a conclusion in the Vienna talks but at the same time it seeks to prevent them from becoming draining.
“We do not want any date to prevent Tehran’s executive instructions from being strictly implemented for the negotiating team,” he pointed out. “In this interview, Dr. Araghchi pointed to only one of the choices for the date of May 21. If the talks are on the right track, with the coordination of both parties and Tehran’s approval, this date can be extended.”

Khatibzadeh said the decision regarding the extension of the February deal will not be made by the Iranian negotiating team. Instead, it will be made in Tehran. 

“The policy of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the technical talks in Vienna is quite clear, the negotiating team acts within the framework of the high policies of the establishment and the executive instructions of Tehran, and sends reports to the relevant authorities on a daily basis,” he continued. 

The spokesman also reacted to comments by American officials that they would lift only JCPOA-related sanctions. 

“Tehran made its decision in 2014 and still abides by the same decision to this day. Regarding the new round of technical talks, Tehran has again made it clear that if all sanctions are lifted and Iran's interest in lifting the sanctions is verified, Iran will certainly fulfill all its obligations under the JCPOA,” Khatibzadeh said, noting that the U.S. has not yet made such a decision and it still looks forward to continuing the ominous legacy the Trump administration.

“This is a decision that Washington has not made and still has its heart set on the poisonous legacy of the previous U.S. administration and the Trump administration. The Biden government must decide whether it still wants to have its heart set on the failed legacy of ‘maximum pressure’, or it wants to distance itself from it and return to its obligations under Resolution 2231 and the JCPOA,” the spokesman stated.

He added, “It is not a difficult decision for Washington if it can agree to abide by international law and its own signature. We look forward to the day when Washington makes that decision. The return of the United States to the JCPOA is entirely up to the United States itself. It will be one hundred percent based on the will and action of the United States. We will wait to see this action and verify it.”

Khatibzadeh also answered questions on Araghchi’s comments that the U.S. has agreed to lift a large portion of sanctions. 

“The talks in Vienna have entered the phase of drafting texts in the field of sanctions lifting and nuclear measures. Besides, a third working group whose work is being pursued more calmly is working. It is wrestling with different details, and these fluidities and details do not allow us to make public announcements, because the talks are going on and reach a different conclusion every day,” Khatibzadeh stated. 

He also said that as part of its commitments, the United States has accepted much of what it ought to do. Khatibzadeh said there are also some sanctions that the U.S. is not willing to lift, but Iran has made it clear that these sanctions were imposed to destroy the JCPOA and prevent Iran from reaping benefits from the JCPOA and thus must be removed. 

“It is no secret that we have serious differences in this area. We are in talks with the Joint Commission of JCPOA and Tehran is examining this issue. Reports are reviewed in Tehran, and the positions are notified to the negotiating team every day, and they follow up,” he noted. 

There are disagreements between the U.S. and Iran over which sanctions should be removed. The U.S. wants to keep some sanctions in place to use them as leverage to expand talks beyond the JCPOA, something that Iran has vehemently rejected. The sanctions have been put into three baskets — green, yellow, and red, depending on how clearly they are inconsistent with the deal. Green will be lifted; yellow must be negotiated; and red will stay, according to The New York Times. The current disagreements revolve around the yellow category, which apparently includes sanctions imposed under terrorism authorities.

Khatibzadeh said Iran will not accept talks beyond the JCPOA. 

“What should be suspended or removed is listed in the JCPOA. We are not negotiating again for a new text in the JCPOA. We do not accept JCPOA Plus or JCPOA Minus. What was written and negotiated in the JCPOA is the same path that we followed decisively in the Vienna talks, and it is natural that all our differences are about the implementation of U.S. actions in the effective lifting of all sanctions, not the lifting of sanctions on paper,” he asserted.

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