The latest tensions could potentially risk the resumption of indirect Iran-US talks regarding the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
The United States called on Iran to stop denying the UN nuclear watchdog access to its “centrifuge parts making workshop” or face diplomatic retaliation within days, Reuters reported on Monday.
The Tesa Karaj complex workshop makes components for centrifuges, machines that enrich uranium. In early June, one of four International Atomic Energy Agency cameras was reportedly destroyed by authorities in Tehran with the footage going “missing.”
It's deeply regrettable that after 3 terrorist attacks in Iran's nuclear facilities during past 1 year, the Agency has not yet condemned them, as it is required to do so by GC & GA resolutions and even for the sake of its own equipment, safety and security of its inspectors.1
— Gharibabadi (@Gharibabadi) September 26, 2021
However, progress was made two weeks ago when Iran struck a deal to grant IAEA inspectors access to service IAEA monitoring equipment in several sites, including Tesa Karaj complex.
The deal, which helped avoid diplomatic escalations between Iran and the West, stipulated inspectors would be allowed to replace memory cards for relevant data needed.
Tensions once again emerged on Sunday after the UN nuclear watchdog said Iran had failed to honour the terms of the deal and did not allow inspectors to service monitoring equipment in the site.
“The (IAEA) Director General (Rafael Grossi) stresses that Iran’s decision not to allow agency access to the TESA Karaj centrifuge component manufacturing workshop is contrary to the agreed terms of the joint statement issued on 12 September,” the International Atomic Energy Agency said in a statement.
The agreement came on the eve of a meeting of the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors aimed to criticise Iran for stonewalling the memory card replacements before they fill up. Fortunately, Rafael Grossi, International Atomic Energy Agency chief, reached the deal in a “constructive” last-minute trip to Tehran before the meeting.
“We are deeply troubled by Iran’s refusal to provide the IAEA with the needed access to service its monitoring equipment, as was agreed in the September 12 Joint Statement between the IAEA and Iran,” a US statement to the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors on Monday said.
Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, said in a tweet that Iran stated that monitoring equipment at Karaj was “not included for servicing” before the deal because of ongoing investigations.
He also added that the report issued on Sunday “goes beyond the agreed terms” of the joint statement.
“During the discussions in Tehran & Vienna, Iran indicated that since Tessa Karaj Complex is still under security and judicial investigations, equipment related to this Complex are not included for servicing. That’s why the phrase “identified equipment” has been used in the “JS,” the official said in a tweet.
“Any decision taken by Iran on monitoring equipment is only based on political rather than legal considerations and the agency cannot and should not consider it as one of its entitlements,” he added in a thread.
However, the European Union stressed that Iran’s failure to grant the IAEA access to the workshop was “a worrying development, contrary to the Joint Statement reached on 12 September 2021.”
Nuclear Deal: will hope be lost?
The latest escalations could potentially end efforts to resume indirect talks.
Last April, indirect US-Iran talks in Vienna kicked off in efforts to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPOA] following Washington’s withdrawal, with both sides expressing their readiness to restore the accord.
The last round of talks in Vienna took place on 20 June, with reports suggesting diplomats would return to the negotiating table following President Ebrahim Raisi’s inauguration.
Nearly two months on, the talks have yet to resume.
The US withdrew from the accord in 2018 under the former Donald Trump administration to apply “maximum pressure” on Iran, imposing crippling sanctions on the country and triggering heightened tensions between the two countries.
With the new Joe Biden administration in office, hopes for Washington to re-enter the deal have remained high.
However, attacks on Iran’s nuclear site and a lack of US commitment to its part of the deal – lifting the sanctions – drove Tehran to retaliate. Soon after, Iran increased its nuclear enrichment to 60% – its highest level so far.
Hopes reemerged recently after Iran reached an agreement with the UN’s nuclear watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] to monitor its nuclear facilities.
On Saturday, Iran’s newly-appointed foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said the talks would resume “very soon” without providing further details.
“The difference between Iranian and Western ‘soon’ is a lot. To us, ‘soon’ means really in the first opportune time—when our reviews [of the nuclear file] have been completed. What is important is our determination to return to the talks, but those that are serious and guarantee the Iranian nation’s rights and interests,” said Amir-Abdollahian.
During his speech at the 76th UN General Assembly [UNGA] last week, President Raisi said that “sanctions are the US’ new way of war with the nations of the world”.
Raisi echoed previous statements in which he said Iran believes the talks can only be useful if they lead to the lifting of crippling sanctions.
“We don’t trust the promises made by the US government,” said Raisi.
Meanwhile, Qatar has been stressing the importance of a swift return to negotiations while offering to mediate between the US and Iran.
“We want a quiet region. We hold consultations with Iran and keep our channels open with Tehran. We do not want to see a nuclear race in the region,” said Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani in an interview with the US Council on Foreign Relations [CFR].
Speaking at the 76th UN General Assembly [UNGA] in New York on Tuesday, Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani also highlighted the importance of returning to the 2015 nuclear deal.
“There is no solution to differences and differences in views with Iran except through rational dialogue on the basis of mutual respect, and this applies to the issue of returning to the nuclear agreement with Iran,” said Sheikh Tamim.