Iran’s nuclear activities, as provided for in the agreement, can be monitored by the IAEA as soon as the organization has doubts about Iran’s activities. Iran has said it will block unannounced inspections by theInternational Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). This is so long as the other parties to the 2015 Vienna Agreement on the Iranian Nuclear Program (JCPOA) do not meet their own obligations.
This announcement comes at a time when Joe Biden is slow to reverse the decisions of his predecessor in the White House. Although Iran is currently keeping its uranium enrichment below the level needed for military purposes, this American announcement is still a cause for concern for the international community.
Iran’s nuclear program will not be monitored by the IAEA
Iran’s nuclear program will not be subject to surprise inspections by the IAEA as provided for in the nuclear agreement. Iran has announced that it will refuse them as of February 21. This will be the case until the other parties to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal meet their own commitments.
Five countries (Germany, China, France, the United States and the United Kingdom) agreed to lower sanctions against Iran in exchange for the abandonment of its military nuclear program. It was in this context that the IAEA controls were established.
Donald Trump provokes the beginning of the escalation
Now former President Donald Trump has gutted the agreement. In 2018, he thus withdrew the United States from the treaty while reinstating heavy sanctions against Tehran. The Europeans, while they disapproved of the abusive withdrawal of the United States, did not take effective measures to support Iran in the face of sanctions.
Noting that the agreement had lapsed, Iran had begun its own gradual disengagement. The country had enriched uranium to 20% by January (which is still far from the 90% needed to make a nuclear bomb). A uranium metal manufacturing plant was opened in response to the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
Clearly referring to the United States, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said:
“This does not mean the end of all monitoring by the UN agency… All of these steps are reversible if the other party changes course and honors its obligations.”
What future for the negotiations in view of the Iranian situation?
Joe Biden was expected to quickly bring the United States back into the agreement that his predecessor had abandoned. However, it seems that the latter prefers, like Donald Trump, to renegotiate the initial agreement. Interviewed on February 7 on CBS Evening News, the President seemed to assert that the Iranians must first stop enrichment.
In short, the Biden administration is demanding that Iran stop violating the provisions of the 2015 agreement. This is the first condition for any return to the negotiating table. For Tehran, on the contrary, it is the United States that must first cancel its sanctions before any discussion is possible.
A locked situation?
Iran’s serious economic difficulties make it doubtful that Tehran will be able to stand up to the Americans for long. According to Reuters, senior officials have already expressed a willingness to be more flexible on the conditions for restoring the nuclear deal.
On the other hand, Joe Biden’s appointed Iran nuclear negotiator, Robert Malley, could help unlock the situation. An expert on Middle East affairs under Barack Obama, he was instrumental in the development of the first agreement.
Qatar, having close relations with both countries, is now trying to play the mediator. The Iranian and Qatari foreign ministers met to this effect on February 15 in Tehran.