Iran Stonewalls IAEA

On the eve of resumed nuclear diplomacy, Iran refused to cooperate with the U.N. watchdog agency responsible for monitoring its nuclear program. At the quarterly meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), held from November 24 to 26, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi told the 35-nation Board of Governors that his negotiations in Tehran on several outstanding disputes were “inconclusive.” Iran was stonewalling investigations into past activities and had turned back inspectors at a facility that manufactures parts for centrifuges used to enrich uranium. 


Grossi in Tehran

Eslami and Grossi
Mohammad Eslami, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, and Rafael Grossi

Grossi held talks with Iranian officials in Tehran on November 22 and 23 in a last-minute effort to reach a deal before the IAEA meeting began on November 24 – and before talks between Iran and the world’s six major powers on restoring the 2015 nuclear deal resumed on November 29.

“In terms of the substance... we were not able to make progress,” Grossi told reporters on November 24. “We are close to the point where I would not be able to guarantee continuity of knowledge” at the Karaj facility, which produces parts for centrifuges. Centrifuges can enrich uranium to produce fuel for nuclear reactors or weapons.

Related Material: Explainer: Iran’s Centrifuges

In June 2021, the Karaj site was sabotaged, and Iran removed four IAEA cameras, allegedly because they were damaged. Tehran blamed Israel for the attack. Inspectors have tried to replace the cameras three times. The IAEA has not confirmed if Karaj is operational. But in November, The Wall Street Journal reported that Iran had resumed production at Karaj in late August and had manufactured components for 170 advanced centrifuges.

Iranian officials were more upbeat about Grossi’s visit. They tried to reach a deal “until the last moment,” Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesperson for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told local media. Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said that a “common declaration” had been agreed and would be published “as soon as possible.”

The United States said that “Iran's failure to cooperate is a bad sign about their seriousness” in talks with the world’s six major powers, which resumed after a five-month hiatus on November 29.


IAEA Board of Governors Meeting

After Grossi outlined outstanding safeguards issues, the IAEA board did not formally censure Iran. But the United States warned that the situation was not sustainable. “If Iran’s non-cooperation is not immediately remedied,” Louis Bono, the US Chargé d’Affaires in Vienna, said, “the Board will have no choice but to reconvene in extraordinary session before the end of this year in order to address the crisis.”

Britain, France and Germany condemned Iran’s behavior as well. “Iran has continued its systematic nuclear escalation, thereby permanently and irreversibly upgrading its nuclear capabilities and exposing the international community to significant risk,” they said in a joint statement. “While expanding its nuclear activities, Iran has also considerably reduced crucial cooperation with the IAEA and seriously undermined the Agency’s ability to monitor the Iranian programme.”

If the disputes are not resolved, the Board could refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council, which has the power to impose economic sanctions. Between 2006 and 2010, the Security Council passed six resolutions and imposed sanctions on Iran for failing to cooperate with the IAEA.


New Activities at Fordo

Following the meeting, the IAEA reported on December 1 that Iran had started enriching uranium up to 20 percent at the underground Fordo facility. It was the latest breach of the 2015 nuclear deal, which bans uranium enrichment at the site until 2031. Iran was producing the uranium using 166 advanced IR-6 centrifuges. The IAEA said that it would increase the frequency of inspections at Fordo in response to the move.

The following are excerpts from statements at the IAEA Board of Governors meeting by Grossi, the United States and European powers.


IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi

Statement on Nov. 24, 2021: “Having returned yesterday from Tehran, I am ready to update you on the safeguards situation regarding Iran. I had extensive negotiations with senior Iranian officials to address Iran’s outstanding safeguards issues. As I will report, these negotiations proved inconclusive.”

“Up to 23 February 2021, the Agency verified and monitored the implementation by Iran of its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA. However, since that date, these activities have been seriously undermined as a result of Iran’s decision to stop the implementation of its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA, including the Additional Protocol.

“In the absence of regular Agency access to its surveillance and monitoring equipment at all facilities and locations in Iran in relation to the JCPOA, the Agency considers the temporary agreement I reached with Iran in February 2021 facilitated the maintenance of continuity of knowledge. However, the repeated prolongation of the agreement, which has now been in place for around nine months, is becoming a significant challenge to the Agency’s ability to restore this continuity of knowledge.

“In addition, contrary to the agreement reached between the Agency and Iran on 12 September 2021, the lack of access to the Karaj workshop has meant that the restoration of surveillance and monitoring at all of Iran’s facilities and locations in relation to the JCPOA could not be completed. This is seriously affecting the Agency’s ability to restore continuity of knowledge at the workshop, which has been widely recognised as essential in relation to a return to the JCPOA.

“You have also received my report entitled NPT Safeguards Agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran, which describes the Agency’s efforts since my last report to clarify questions relating to the correctness and completeness of Iran’s declarations under its Safeguards Agreement and Additional Protocol.

“The presence of multiple uranium particles of anthropogenic origin at three locations in Iran not declared to the Agency, as well as the presence of isotopically altered particles at one of these locations, is a clear indication that nuclear material and/or equipment contaminated by nuclear material has been present at these locations.

“I am also concerned by the incidences of Agency inspectors being subjected to excessively invasive physical searches by security officials at nuclear facilities in Iran. I reiterate the call upon Iran to take immediate steps to remedy the situation, and to implement security procedures at nuclear facilities in a manner consistent with internationally accepted security practices and Iran’s legal obligations in relation to privileges and immunities of the Agency and its inspectors.

“In the two reports mentioned above, I informed the Board of Governors that I had accepted an invitation to visit Tehran to hold high level consultations with the Iranian Government as agreed in the Joint Statement of 12 September 2021.
“On 23 November 2021, I had meetings in Tehran with the Vice President of Iran and Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, H.E. Mohammad Eslami, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Iran, H.E. Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. Despite my best efforts, these extensive negotiations and deliberations to address Iran’s outstanding safeguards issues, detailed in the two reports, proved inconclusive.”


The United States

Statement delivered by Chargé d’Affaires Louis L. Bono on Nov. 25, 2021: “In June 2020, the Board adopted a resolution calling on Iran to fully cooperate with the IAEA without further delay in resolving the Agency’s questions.  This cooperation must include credible and verifiable explanations as to the origins and current location of the nuclear material or equipment that sampling indicates was present at the three undeclared locations, as well as information on the location and activities associated with the natural uranium metal disc connected with the fourth undeclared location.         

“Regrettably, Iran has still not provided the necessary cooperation, even after extensive attempts by the Director General to develop a constructive relationship with Iran’s new leadership.  In welcoming the September 12 Joint Statement between Iran and the IAEA, we stressed that it must lead to concrete actions by Iran on an urgent basis.  Despite Iran committing to invite the Director General to Tehran in order to hold high level consultations focused on enhancing cooperation with the Agency and making substantive progress on the unresolved safeguards issues, and despite the Director General signaling his readiness to travel at the earliest opportunity, the Director General traveled to Tehran only in the last few days, and the meeting once again resulted in no substantive progress.

“Moreover, we remain deeply concerned that Iran has ceased the implementation of the provisions of its Additional Protocol. This negatively impacts the ability of the Agency to provide credible assurance of the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran.  We are also concerned about Iran’s decision to stop implementing modified Code 3.1 of the Subsidiary Arrangements of its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, contrary to its legal obligations.  We reiterate today that modified Code 3.1 is legally binding on Iran and cannot be unilaterally modified or suspended.

“It is imperative that the Board break the current pattern of Iran’s eleventh-hour attempts to undercut Board unity and forestall Board action in the face of continued Iranian non-cooperation.  We are grateful that the Director General traveled to Tehran this week despite the demands of preparing for the Board of Governors meeting, and we are deeply disappointed that Iran refused to take the opportunity presented by his visit to make progress on the long list of urgent outstanding issues before the Agency.  If Iran’s non-cooperation is not immediately remedied, including on the issues raised under the JCPOA agenda, especially the restoration of continuity of knowledge at Karaj, the Board will have no choice but to reconvene in extraordinary session before the end of this year in order to address the crisis.

“As the Director General states in his report, the lack of substantive engagement by Iran has prevented progress in clarifying the Agency’s questions concerning the correctness and completeness of Iran’s safeguards declarations and is seriously affecting the ability of the Agency to provide assurance of the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program, the core assurance that we rely on the Agency to provide.”

“Iran’s legal obligations under its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement include not only the obligation to provide the IAEA with certain information and access necessary to resolve questions related to undeclared locations and material, but also the obligation to accord Agency inspectors the privileges and immunities required by the IAEA’s Agreement on Privileges and Immunities, to which Iran is a party.  We are therefore seriously alarmed at the Director General’s report that Agency inspectors continue to experience excessively invasive physical searches at the hands of Iranian security personnel, and that such treatment threatens to prevent Agency inspectors from effectively discharging their functions.

“Two months ago, the members of this Board sent a clear message to Iran that its inappropriate treatment and intimidation of inspectors is unacceptable and must end immediately.  The Board must treat the safety and wellbeing of Agency inspectors and staff as a top priority, and we condemn the practices adopted by Iranian security personnel, as described in the Director General’s report.  We request that the Director General immediately report any future incidents involving inappropriate treatment of Agency inspectors so that the Board can take appropriate and prompt action in defense of the dedicated professionals that carry out the Agency’s vital work.

“Finally, we request the Agency’s report on implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement with Iran contained in document GOV/2021/52 be made public, consistent with longstanding practice.”


Britain, France and Germany

Joint statement on Nov. 24, 2021: “We are deeply concerned that, for more than two years, Iran has continued its systematic nuclear escalation, thereby permanently and irreversibly upgrading its nuclear capabilities and exposing the international community to significant risk. Iran has no plausible civilian justification for both 20% and 60% enrichment and the production of High Enriched Uranium (HEU) is unprecedented for a State without a weapons programme. As a result of its alarming pace of production, Iran’s total stockpile today contains enough fissile material that if enriched further could be used to produce more than one nuclear weapon and accumulation of uranium enriched at 20 and 60% is further reducing the time Iran would take to break out towards a first nuclear weapon. Moreover, the recent installation of modular infrastructure of advanced centrifuges is a concerning development since it will enable Iran to change the operating configuration of such cascades more easily and to enrich to higher levels. Iran has also developed essential knowledge critical to the production of a nuclear weapon, in particular in the field of uranium metal. Research & Development (R&D) with both natural and enriched uranium metal lack any plausible civilian justification in Iran and is providing Iran with weapons applicable knowledge gains. Iran’s R&D on, and extensive use of, advanced centrifuges have permanently improved its enrichment capabilities. This means that Iran’s continued escalations are irreversibly reducing the counter-proliferation value of the JCPoA.

“The combined effect of these steps – including the increased production of High Enriched Uranium; the accelerated development and deployment of advanced centrifuges; and the production of uranium metal enriched to 20% – means that the nuclear programme is now in a significantly more advanced state. While expanding its nuclear activities, Iran has also considerably reduced crucial cooperation with the IAEA and seriously undermined the Agency’s ability to monitor the Iranian programme. For nine months already, Iran has suspended all transparency and verification measures, under the JCPoA and under the Additional Protocol. The successive prolongation of the Temporary Technical Understanding reached in February to maintain the possibility of restoring continuity of knowledge, and Iran’s continued refusal to formally extend these limited transparency measures have become a significant challenge to the Agency. Continuity of knowledge is key for the Agency to be in a position to resume the necessary verification and monitoring activities in Iran in relation to the JCPOA. We therefore very strongly urge Iran to reinstate IAEA access and cooperate in full.

“DG Grossi visited Tehran on 11 to 12 September and again on 22 to 23 November with a view to addressing issues highlighted in his reports regarding Iran’s lack of co-operation with the IAEA. Despite the understanding reached with Iran during the September talks, Iran has continued to deny the IAEA access to the TESA Karaj facility. The fact that Iran has failed to fully implement this agreement is extremely concerning and calls into question whether Iran is prepared to act in good faith. We are gravely concerned that by Iran’s actions, the Agency risks being unable to restore continuity of knowledge at this location.

“We call upon Iran to urgently restore IAEA access to Karaj, in order to verify whether production of centrifuge rotor tubes and bellows has resumed and to install replacement cameras. Iran must also account for the whereabouts of missing IAEA recording units and storage media. It is essential that Iran returns to full implementation of JCPOA-related IAEA monitoring arrangements, including its application of the Additional Protocol, as soon as possible. Restoring full transparency and monitoring arrangements will help build the confidence of the international community in the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme.

“We as E3 will return to Vienna for negotiations in good faith, to resume work based on where we left off discussions in June. We are convinced that it is possible to reach and implement an understanding on the measures providing for Iran return to full compliance with its JCPoA commitments and the United States return to the deal. We are convinced it is in the best interest of all parties to do so swiftly. Iran should take the opportunity to do this deal now. Restoring full implementation of the JCPoA is in the collective security interests of all, including of Iran.

“We encourage the Director General to keep the Board informed regarding progress on monitoring and verification in Iran in all its aspects. It is important that the Board continues to monitor the situation closely.

“We would welcome the Agency’s latest quarterly report on monitoring and verification in Iran be made public.”