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Iran Reaches Temporary Agreement With UN-Backed Nuclear Watchdog

By Orkhan Jalilov February 22, 2021

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IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi addresses the media at Vienna International Airport after reaching a temporary deal for continued nuclear inspection during a visit to Iran, on 21 February 2021. / UN Photo

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran’s nuclear agency have reached a temporary and technical understanding, under which the monitoring of the country’s nuclear program can continue.

“The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (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 (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), as of 23 February 2021,” a joint statement released by the IAEA and AEOI on February 21 said.

The agreement was reached following IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi's visit to Iran. He held separate meetings with the Iranian vice-president and AEOI chief, Ali Akbar Salehi and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during the visit.

According to the statement, the two organizations agreed that “Iran continues to implement fully and without limitation its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA as before”. They also agreed “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)”, and to keep the technical understanding under regular review to ensure it continues to achieve its purposes.

The agreement means the number of IAEA inspectors will not change and will have less access than under the JCPOA. The JCPOA, known as the nuclear deal, was signed between Iran and world powers in July 2015, under which Iran received sanctions relief in return for curbing its nuclear program.

“We agreed that in view of the law, and in particular the provision that establishes limitations, we have reached a temporary bilateral technical understanding whereby the agency is going to continue its necessary verification and monitoring activities for a period of up to three months,” Grossi told journalists during his visit to Iran on February 21, according to the UN News.

In early January, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) officially announced that it had resumed enriching uranium to 20 percent purity at the Fordo facility, a level not seen since 2015. The enrichment process was launched on January 4 as part of Iran’s Strategic Action Plan to Counter Sanctions, which was approved by the country’s parliament in December 2020. According to the action plan, Iran will partially suspend nuclear inspections if the United States did not lift sanctions imposed under the Trump administration, and it goes into effect on February 23.

Following the withdrawal of Washington from the JCPOA in May 2018, Iran urged the deal's remaining signatories, to establish financial and trade mechanisms by which the country could get around the US restrictions. In May 2019, citing European countries’ failure to uphold commitments to preserve Iran’s economic benefits, Tehran began to reduce its commitments and resumed the buildup of its uranium stockpile and enrichment levels.

In August 2020, the IAEA and Iran agreed to further reinforce their cooperation and enhance mutual trust to facilitate the full implementation of Iran’s Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement (CSA) and the Additional Protocol (AP), which obliges Iran to fully declare its nuclear enrichment activities and offer assurances that the program remains within the constraints of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

In June 2020, the IAEA Board of Governors adopted a resolution criticizing Iran’s refusal to allow inspection at two of its nuclear sites, where undeclared enrichment has been reported.

On February 21, Iranian MPs called for stopping the voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty if the sanctions remain in place. On Monday, some Iranian lawmakers slammed the temporary agreement as a violation of the law, saying that the agreement needs to be addressed by the Judiciary.

Referring to the temporary agreement, the head of the Iranian Parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission Mojtaba Zonnour said that “Leader of the Islamic Revolution [Ali Khamenei] announced that no condition or negotiation will be accepted as long as Europe and America do not nullify sanction. Leader’s remarks are clear, but the recent agreement of the administration and the IAEA is a form of accepting conditions."