What's the main obstacle to resuming Vienna talks?

October 20, 2021 - 20:20

TEHRAN – As nuclear tensions soar between Iran and the West, grievances over the statements of the chief of the UN nuclear watchdog accumulate in Tehran.

The recent remarks by the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, seem to be weighing heavily on the possibility to resume the stalled Vienna nuclear talks.

During a visit to Washington, where he met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Grossi grumbled about the diminished ability of the IAEA to monitor Iran’s nuclear program. He warned that “stop-gap” measures to monitor Iran’s nuclear activities are no longer “intact” and that he urgently needed to meet Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian to discuss proposals to reinvigorate the fragile surveillance program.

“I haven’t been able to talk to [Iran’s new] foreign minister,” Grossi told the Financial Times during a visit to Washington. “I need to have this contact at the political level. This is indispensable. Without it, we cannot understand each other.”

The IAEA chief also warned about the so-called break-out time of Iran “becoming shorter and shorter” by the day, a position that is likely to provide the West with political ammunition to put forth a resolution against Iran in the next quarterly meeting of the IAEA board of governors slated for November. 

The last few weeks have seen simmering tensions between Iran and the West over when to resume the Vienna talks over reviving a 2015 nuclear deal formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran has said it will return to Vienna “soon” while the United States and its European allies keep underlining that Iran should return to Vienna “as soon as possible.”

Enrique Mora, the European Union's deputy secretary general for political affairs, recently paid a visit to Tehran in order to gauge the Iranian seriousness in terms of returning to Vienna and understand when Iran would return to the Austrian capital. 

Earlier, Grossi himself traveled to Iran and even succeeded in reaching an agreement with Iran on the continuation of the IAEA monitoring activities in Iran. Despite striking agreement with Grossi, Iran let it be known that it wasn’t pleased with the way he is handling the relations between Iran and the IAEA. 

With the nuclear tensions rising again, Grossi is seeking to visit Tehran on the grounds that his agency’s surveillance over Iran’s nuclear activities is not sufficient. But Iran is warily dealing with Grossi due to his track record of ups and downs with Tehran. Iranian news website Nour News reported on Wednesday that Iran has refrained from setting a date for Grossi’s visit due to the “continuation” of his “politically motivated behaviors and his non-compliance with bilateral agreements.”

Reviewing Grossi’s “destructive role,” the news website described the IAEA chief as “one of the serious obstacles to resuming” the Vienna nuclear talks. 

“It is safe to say that Grossi's statements and actions since the beginning of his tenure in the IAEA have been very close to the destructive actions of the Zionist regime [Israel] in Iran's nuclear program. He owes his management of the Agency to the strong support of the Trump administration, and after the establishment of the Biden administration in the White House, he is still trying to continue the path of the past with more stunts and consolidate his position,” Nour News said. 

It added, “The main reason for Grossi's anti-Iran behavior and stance is the influence of the Israeli lobby in the IAEA and his management by Tel Aviv, which has unfortunately severely damaged the IAEA's legal status.”

Any further statements by Grossi against Iran in the coming days and weeks would most likely exacerbate this mistrust. Therefore, the IAEA chief may need to alter and soften his rhetoric against Iran and most importantly refrain from paving the way for the West to table a resolution against Iran in the next meeting of the IAEA board of directors. 

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