Iran slows down nuclear inspectors, but appears to be giving way to deal

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Iran appears to have partly lifted its threat to sharply limit international inspections of its nuclear facilities as of Tuesday, giving Western countries three months to see if the start of a new diplomatic initiative with the United States and the United States. Europe will reinstate the 2015 nuclear deal.

After a weekend in Tehran, Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said on Sunday that his inspectors would have “less access” from Tuesday, but that they could still monitor major production sites where Iran has said it manufactures nuclear material. He did not describe what form these new limits would take, but said there would be a three-month hiatus on some of Iran’s new restrictions under a “technical annex” that did not has not been made public.

At the same time, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that under a law passed by the country’s parliament, Tehran would no longer abide by an agreement with the nuclear agency that gives inspectors the right to require access to any site where they suspicious nuclear activity may have taken place. He also said inspectors could not get footage from the security cameras that keep some of the sites under constant surveillance.

The vague announcement appeared to be part of maneuvers in Iran on how to respond to an offer by the Biden administration to resume diplomatic contact on restoring the deal that President Donald J. Trump abandoned nearly three years. President Biden and Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken have offered to join European nations in what would be the first substantive diplomacy with Tehran in more than four years.

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“Iran has yet to respond,” Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser, said on TBEN’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “But what happened as a result was that the script was flipped. It is Iran that is now diplomatically isolated, not the United States. And the ball is in their court.

Iran has consistently tried to pressure Washington to lift sanctions, with gradual increases in the amount of nuclear fuel it produces and announcements that it is starting to enrich uranium to higher levels. high, closer to bomb grade materials. Threatening to restrict inspectors is part of that effort.

But now the Iranians are finding themselves in a corner of their own accord: with a presidential election in four months, no one wants to appear weak in the face of international pressure.

Iranian leaders also recognize that Mr Biden’s election gives them their best chance since 2018 to see sanctions lifted – and international oil sales are pouring in. This will require restoring the production limits prescribed in the 2015 agreement. The agreement also requires Iran to submit to snap inspections of sites not declared under what is called the Additional Protocol, the rules that the Most members of the International Atomic Energy Agency join by granting more extensive rights to inspectors.

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Mr Grossi and White House officials appeared keen to avoid any suggestion that the limits on inspectors created a crisis such as the one the Clinton administration faced in 1994, when North Korea expelled the agency inspectors and ran for a bomb. In this case, the inspectors will continue their work in Iran, even if their view of nuclear fuel production and their ability to trace past nuclear activities is limited.

“Grossi has mitigated some damage,” said Andrea Stricker, a researcher at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, who was a major criticism of the deal with Iran, on Sunday. But she added that “reducing surveillance in any form is extremely problematic given the major nuclear advances that Iran has undertaken,” especially after the agency began to question the past nuclear activity at sites where it had found traces of radioactive material.

“The IAEA must publish the technical agreement and explain exactly how the surveillance has been reduced so that the international community can assess the seriousness of Iran’s move,” Stricker said.

Henry Rome, an Iranian expert at the Eurasia Group, said Sunday’s announcement “presents an opening, but we are not out of the woods yet,” noting that the country has continued to step up its enrichment of uranium and testing new, more advanced centrifuges to produce the fuel.

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The news that Iran had reached some sort of accommodation with Mr Grossi that could buy diplomacy time drew reactions from all factions in Iran. And the lack of details from the country’s atomic energy agency and the international nuclear agency gave material to both those who wanted to restore the deal and those who thought it was a lot. too restrictive for Iran’s capabilities.

Conservative commentators have taken to social media to criticize the government for circumventing a law passed by parliament in January that requires restricting inspectors’ access.

“Bypass the law?” Seyed Nezameddin Mousavi, a conservative lawmaker, tweeted on Sunday, suggesting the government was trying to circumvent Parliament’s actions. “It seems my anxiety was justified.

Proponents of diplomacy praised the government for its creative thinking on how to recognize the legal requirement without removing the inspectors. Some have suggested that the compromise involved Iran’s agreement to preserve footage recorded by security cameras that monitor fuel production, but not hand them over to inspectors until the 2015 deal is reinstated.

“The Iranians have accepted more than it seems at this stage, but because for the IAEA to be fully satisfied there has to be continuity of knowledge,” said Ali Vaez, Iranian director of the ‘International Crisis Group. “He basically postponed the crisis.”

Rick gladstone contribution to reports.

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