Iran nuclear chief sends letter to IAEA

June 1, 2021 - 19:50

TEHRAN - Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), has sent a letter to the chief of the UN nuclear watchdog informing him that a February deal between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency has expired but Iran decided to continue to store data related to monitoring activities. 

The letter was announced after the Agency released a quarterly report on Iran in which it accused Iran of failing to explain traces of uranium found at several allegedly undeclared sites. The letter also came after IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi announced on May 24 that he had agreed with Iran to extend by one month a February deal between Iran and the IAEA allowing the UN nuclear watchdog to continue necessary monitoring activities. 

However, Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s permanent representative to the UN offices in Vienna, said that Salehi, in his letter, told Grossi that the monitoring deal has expired.

“Dr. Salehi's letter to @rafaelmgrossi: Whereas the Technical Understanding was expired on May 24, Iran decided not to extend it, meanwhile we decided to continue recording for one month aimed at providing another opportunity to conclude bilateral tech negotiations with the Agency,” Gharibabadi said on Twitter, adding, “On safeguards, Iran has so far done its utmost efforts to cooperate with the Agency substantively and provide the necessary clarifications and responses. We welcome the Agency’s readiness for engaging in a proactive and focused effort to resolve the issues without any delay.”

The Iranian diplomat also said, “And as before, we would continue to cooperate constructively with the Agency. We highly expect such a mutually determination would result in reaching a visible practical outcome as quickly as possible.”

In May, Grossi said he had agreed with Iran to extend by one month the necessary verification and monitoring activities carried out by the Agency in the country. He made the announcement after reaching the agreement with Salehi.

Under their agreement, the information collected by the Agency monitoring equipment covered by a Technical Understanding signed last February will continue to be stored for a further period of one month up to June 24, according to a statement issued by the IAEA. They also agreed that the equipment will continue to operate and be able to collect and store further data for this period, the statement noted. 

“I am happy that, through our continued dialogue, we were able to agree on this matter today,” the IAEA chief said at the time. 

“I welcome this development. The expiration of the Technical Understanding, which enabled the Agency’s verification and monitoring, would have been a serious loss at this critical time,” he added. “This agreed way forward ensures continuity of knowledge for a limited period of time.”

Iran’s top security body also confirmed the decision, saying in a statement that the extension was made to give nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West more time.

“Due to the ongoing technical negotiations on the settlement of safeguards issues between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency, which are taking place in parallel with the Vienna talks, the storage of surveillance cameras data will continue for one month from May 24 so that the necessary opportunity is provided for the progress and conclusion of the negotiations,” Secretariat of Iran's Supreme National Security Council said in a statement. It also underlined the continued suspension of the voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in accordance with a parliamentary nuclear law obliging the Iranian government to restrict cooperation with the IAEA unless the West lifts sanctions on Iran.

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 nuclear deal, formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Iran’s monitoring deal with the IAEA came a few days before the nuclear law came into force.

Iran and the IAEA reached in February a temporary deal allowing the Agency to continue its monitoring of Iran’s nuclear facilities for a period of three months, which expired more than a week ago. The deal was reached during a two-day visit by IAEA chief Grossi to Iran.

At that time. the IAEA and the AEOI issued a joint statement announcing the deal.

“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 February 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.”

In early May, a few weeks before the expiration of the deal, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araqchi, who is leading the Iranian negotiating team in Vienna, said that Iran would consider extending the deal if needed.

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.

Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, reiterated this position, saying that extending the deal is one of Iran’s options. 

“In this interview, Dr. Araqchi 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,” the spokesman said. 

Salehi’s letter came amid the fifth round of the nuclear talks currently underway in the Austrian capital of Vienna. The talks made progress but are yet to reach a final stage.

Araqchi has said that all parties are still serious and have taken these talks seriously and many delegations are hoping that this round can be the last round of talks and “we will reach a conclusion.”

“You can have such hope, but you have to be a little bit cautious. The issues that remain to be finalized and decided are still important issues, although their number has decreased and we have made great strides in writing the text in previous periods. We can move forward further, but the few issues that remain are still key issues that need to be decided,” he said.