IAEA secures 'temporary understanding' with Iran

22 February 2021

Parties to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) now have three months within which to navigate the impasse created by a law passed by the Iranian parliament late last year. In a joint statement yesterday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) confirmed that Iran will stop the implementation of the voluntary measures as envisaged in the JCPoA from tomorrow, thus enabling the AEOI to comply with the law - Strategic Action to Cease Actions and Protect the Interests of the Iranian Nation .

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi speaking with reporters yesterday (Image: IAEA)

However, they have agreed to "a temporary bilateral technical understanding", compatible with this law, whereby the IAEA will continue with its necessary verification and monitoring activities for up to three months. They reiterated that Iran continues to implement "fully and without limitation" its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA as before.

They also "recalled and reaffirmed the spirit of cooperation and enhanced mutual trust" that led to their joint statement of 26 August 2020, "and the importance of continuing that cooperation and trust".

A reasonable result

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi arrived in Tehran on 20 February, weeks after Iran’s parliament set a deadline of 23 February for the US administration to lift economic sanctions, or Tehran would halt snap IAEA inspections of the country's nuclear facilities.

Speaking to journalists gathered outside Vienna airport after his return from Iran last night, Grossi said: "We got a reasonable result after what was a very intensive consultation, negotiation, with our Iranian counterparts. In view of the imminent deadline established by a law passed by the Iranian parliament, we, the Agency, believed that it was very necessary to have this conversation with our Iranian counterparts so as to avoid a situation where we all of a sudden would find ourselves lacking information about important activities taking place in Iran.

"This was the spirit in which I proposed myself to come to Iran," he said of his offer to Ali Akbar Salehi, Iranian vice president and the head of the AEOI. "Salehi accepted and I was there yesterday and today. Basically what we have agreed is the following. Firstly we reconfirmed that Iran will continue to implement the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement without any limitation, as they have been doing so far. Secondly we agreed that, in view of the law and in particular the provision that establishes limitations, we 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. Lastly, we agreed that we are going to keep this understanding we reached under constant review, so if we want to suspend or extend it, this can be done.

"The IAEA hopes to be able to stabilise a situation that was very unstable and I think this technical understanding does that, so that other political consultations at other levels can take place and, most importantly, we can avoid a situation in which we would have been, in practical terms, flying blind."

What 'understanding' means

Asked to explain 'technical understanding', Grossi said: "We have agreed at a technical level on a certain number of things that are going to continue so that we have the necessary monitoring access to information and activities."

On what will happen tomorrow, the deadline set by the Iranian law, he said: "There's one thing that needs to be clear. This law exists. This law is going to be applied, which means that the Additional Protocol, much to my regret, is going to be suspended. Nevertheless we decided to go there and agree on a specific bilateral arrangement, an 'understanding' as we call it that will allow us to bridge this period in the best possible way, without losing the necessary monitoring and verification capacities."

Asked how this understanding compares with the JCPoA, he said: "There is less access, let's face it, but still we were able to retain the necessary degree of monitoring and verification work for what it is, as it has been defined, as a 'temporary technical understanding'."

On the terms Iran laid out in its 15 February letter to the IAEA, he said: "The measures that are going to be applied are in a certain sense mitigated by the temporary understanding that we have reached. This is why I have emphasised so much that this is not a replacement for what we used to have. This is a temporary solution that allows us to continue to give the world assurances of what is going on there [in Iran] in the hope that we can return to a fuller picture."

Regarding recent remarks by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi  that "about 20 to 30% of the IAEA's oversight capacity will be reduced as a result of the implementation of the parliament's decision", Grossi said: "As for percentages, I wouldn’t get into that. I think that what has been decided at a technical level with my team is the kind of things that we absolutely needed."

Asked if the 'understanding' could be suspended immediately, he said: "It could be stopped at any time, including if, as we all hope, there is an agreement to go back to the Additional Protocol and to the normal measures."

There has been no change to the number of IAEA inspectors able to work in Iran, he said. "What changes is the type of activity and a number of things that will be happening."

The technical understanding includes snap inspections, as under the Additional Protocol, he said. "In effect it's not the same but I want to be clear and that we owe it to our Iranian counterparts we need to be honest here on what we agreed. What we agreed is something that is viable and useful to bridge this gap which we are having now. It salvages the situation now, but of course for a stable, sustainable situation, there will have to be a political negotiation that is not up to me."

Asked if he was confident that, with this new arrangement, he could assure the world that Iran's nuclear programme is peaceful, he said: "Not as I was before, but in a satisfactory manner." He added: "If you compare the Additional Protocol with this temporary technical understanding, then of course there are differences. There are things you lose, there are things you keep. The important thing is the overall picture that our inspectors are getting and we will be keeping you informed."

He concluded his remarks by saying "this is a serious moment" but that the IAEA "continues to serve" the international community.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News