Iran will remove “basically all” the extra monitoring equipment, including 27 cameras, installed as part of the 2015 nuclear deal, the U.N. nuclear watchdog announced on June 9. If Iran does not restore the cameras within three to four weeks, “this would be a fatal blow” to reviving the historic agreement, Rafael Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), warned at a snap press conference. “I think the window of opportunity is very, very, very small,” he said. “This, of course, poses a serious challenge to our ability to continue working there. “
The cameras have monitored Iran’s centrifuge production, uranium mines, storage facilities and other aspects of Iran’s nuclear program. “When we lose this, then it’s anybody’s guess” what the state of Iran’s nuclear program is, Grossi added. Without the cameras, he also warned that Iran could make new centrifuges and divert them to unknown locations in a covert operation. Once removed, U.N. inspectors will only have three or four weeks before they will lose “continuity of knowledge” about the full range of Iran’s nuclear activities, Grossi said. Kelsey Davenport, an expert at the Arms Control Association, said that the new move will further “fuel speculation that Iran is diverting materials for covert activities.”
The IAEA’s access to monitoring data was already limited. Since February 2021, Iran has withheld camera footage at declared nuclear sites, which was retaliation for the assassination of a leading nuclear scientist, reportedly by Israel, in November 2020. In a subsequent compromise brokered by Grossi, Iran agreed to share the data if and when the United States lifted economic sanctions as part of a return to the nuclear deal. It’s now unclear what will happen to that data, Grossi said.
Iran appeared to be retaliating after the IAEA overwhelmingly censured Tehran for failing to explain uranium traces at three undeclared sites that date to a covert program before 2003. The Board of Governors vote was 30 for, two against with three abstentions. In a statement on June 8, Iran’s foreign ministry condemned the resolution as a “political, wrongful and unconstructive act” based on an “unbalanced” IAEA report. It charged that the sponsors of the IAEA resolution– the United States, Britain, France and Germany – will be “responsible for the consequences.”
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Grossi said that the world faced “a very tense situation,” but added that diplomacy is not dead. “I invite Iran to engage with me immediately. The following is a partial transcript of Grossi’s remarks.
Press Conference on June 9
Grossi: I thought it was important to have an opportunity to see you, albeit briefly today, in view of the latest information we have received last night and still working on that today regarding the equipment of the agency in Iran. Basically, what we have been informed is that 27 cameras--like this, you remember in December, we were showing these cameras on a more auspicious time when we were reinstalling cameras--27 cameras are being removed in Iran, apart from an online enrichment monitoring system that we have over there. So this of course, poses a serious challenge to our ability to continue working there and to confirm the correctness of Iran's declaration on the JCPOA. So we thought just as I announced, the set of measures and beyond the CSA when this took place, back in February and now, we are seeing this circumstance dismantle and of course with possible consequences. So I felt it will be important for me to have an opportunity to confirm this to you. I just informed the Board of Governors about this. Our inspectors will be accompanying these activities over the next few hours in different places in Iran. And we will take it from there, but I'm sure you may have your specific questions on this matter. And I am I will be more than happy to answer. Yes. Yes.
Q: Just to pin down some of the things that you've just you've just said to so you say 27 cameras or what Iran has told you they're going to disconnect or remove--
Q: Remove in the next day? Is that what you're saying?
A: Well it will take some time, that depends on logistics, because as you know, these cameras are not...we have in Tehran, we have in Isfahan, we have in Natanz, we have in Khondab. It's a few places where we have them, so I don't know this is a logistical matter. But they start today.
Q: And apparently you told the Board [of Governors] that there was also other monitoring equipment that was going to be removed, so which monitoring equipment?
A: Online enrichment monitoring, and the flow meter.
Q: Is this all the extra monitoring equipment that was installed under the JCPOA beyond the safeguards?
A: Basically all. There might be something. There are still some gray areas. We are trying to ascertain we just got a very succinct communication from Iran last night. We are trying to go to the to the details, but the idea is that whatever was beyond the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement to be removed. But this is the principle, now we have to see how it's operated.
Q: Can you tell us how many cameras will remain under the influence circle and five theories?
A: Yeah, perhaps not exactly. But 40 something.
Q: And your characterization of the locations that these will be removed from? It was pretty broad...Isfahan, Natanz... Is it a sample of all the locations currently? Can you tell us where the cameras are going to be removed from?
A: Everywhere where according to the CSA (Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement) we need to be inspecting. So it is this, plus a few more.
Q: Where are the ones that are being removed coming out of?
A: Natanz. We have some Isfahan, we have some Tehran. We have some at Khondab. We must remember that these cameras are placed in places that are related to some centrifuge part assembly production R&D (research and development) without UF6 (a gaseous form of uranium) things like this.
Q: So does this categorically end any possibility of you being able to reconstruct this continuity of knowledge talking point that had been used over the last year? You know, you've done a lot of work.
A: Yeah, if you put it like that, I would say no, but very close to that. Very, very, very close to that. I think the window of opportunity is very, very, very small.
Q: After the Board of Governors resolution, Iranian officials linked this resolution to your trip to Israel. I want to know your comment about this reaction. And second, two data sources in Iran announced Iran [is] going to increase production and installation of the IR-6, IR-4, and IR-2 M centrifuges. Is the agency is informed about it? And if yes, what's your comment on it?
A: Not yet. Well, there are many things that you're asking. First of all, the resolution is a matter for member states, is a decision that they take. They don't do these things because the DG (director general) goes and tells them, “Please put forward a resolution or don't etc.” It's typical that there is a lot of speculation about these things. And least of all, a resolution will be linked to the visit of the director general to another country. So I think this is a construction which is very strange. But anyway, I respect opinions.
On possible additional activities, we haven't been informed yet. We know that there is--there has been for some time--a plan to install new capacity and to increase installed capacity. So as soon as we are informed, we have to actually report these formally to the Board of Governors, and we will do so immediately. And today I will issue a report on this issue of the removal of cameras today.
Q: So at your press conference on Monday (June 6), you mentioned that Iran is very close to reaching enough material to produce the atomic bomb, like some weeks or so. So how do you assess the situation right now, after all this?
A: Well, in terms of the capacities there's nothing that happened between Monday and today that would affect that quantitative assessment. What we are seeing, because of the decision that has been announced to us today, is a decrease of the visibility that the agency is going to have about what's happening in Iran. Of course, this is something I deplore.
Q: You spoke in your introduction about consequences to what just happened. Can you elaborate more? What kind of consequences do you mean? How many cameras still exist in Iran for the IAEA under the JCPOA?
A: It's more than 40--around. So in terms of consequences, I don't know exactly what do you mean. I think that we are in a very tense situation, with the negotiations on the revival of the JCPOA at a low, if I can put it like that, with our bilateral process with Iran on the clarification of a number of outstanding issues not being successful so far. Now we are adding this to the picture. So as you can see, it's not a very nice one. You know, my obligation is to persevere, to continue. To continue proposing solutions and to continue to propose that we work together with Iran, but quite clearly, it's not one of those good days, it's not.
Q: I have two questions. One is a technical one. Can you explain a little bit more about online enrichment monitor? And another few monitor, that's question number one. And number two, is that in Monday's press conference, you told us that it's very close to that Iran is going to—from the quantity wise—go over the threshold, and you added that it is even more so necessary that IAEA give you an access, and what's happening right now is completely the opposite.
A: Well, this goes in the opposite direction. What we are trying to is to bring more clarity, to bring more clarification, at a moment where this is needed, as it was mentioned has now they have plans to increase production, to increase volume production, to have more installed capacity. So we believe that this runs contrary to the idea of providing more mutual confidence. We'll see. I think my intention, as I said in my report, and I hope just said to the board, that I am ready, and I invite Iran to engage with me immediately to try to look at what we can do together in order to prevent a situation where we will be even further apart, which is something that will be very, very bad.
On the technical parts, these are systems that we have in addition, which are important to verify the amounts of enriched uranium. It's added technical, you know, apart from cameras, we have other ways, apart from the physical. You have the physical inspections, you have the cameras, but you also have systems that can identify the flows for example of liquids or the amount of enriched material and can send this information online to us. So it's, you know, added systems, the data transmission systems that the agency has to complete the full picture.
Q: You said that it's short or [a] very short window of opportunity to essentially, if I understand you correctly, to maintain a chance of restoring continuity of knowledge. Apparently, you told the board that it's a period of three to four weeks. And what happens after that, then? Where does that, what would, if you went beyond that period, where would that leave you in terms of how you would be able to describe your verification records.
A: Well, if we were in that at that moment, in that position, if there was a return to the JCPOA or an attempt to return to the JCPOA now or in the future, the agency would not be able to give a service to the parties in terms of telling them what the baseline is. Where they are? Where they are? So, it can be whatever. So unless the agency can say these are the quantities, these are the volumes, and from here you can determine what you want to reduce, how we can verify that. When we lose this well, then it's anybody's guess.
Q: More specifically, do you know what's going to happen to the data that's been collected over the past more than a year and is still with Iran now?
A: Not clear.
Q: You said that some of the cameras that were removed were from places that used to monitor where centrifuges were being made. So now do you think that Iran can make new centrifuges without IAEA being able to verify that and without knowing? And what would be the consequences for that?
A: Less transparency. More doubt, uncertainty.
Q: And are you talking to the Iranians asking for another trip to Iran? Is that a plan?
A: Well, I really hope that we can do this. I think we need to do this. We had a process, we had agreed on a process. The process did not produce the results that we were hoping it would. So nobody should be... People are, especially in Iran, some people are very angry because I'm saying this, but this is the truth. The reality is that we were not able to come to a successful outcome. There was no gratification. So does this mean that this is the end of the line? I think it shouldn't be the case.
Q: You don't have an invite?
A: Not yet. I hope to have one soon.
Q: Have you asked?
A: No, I haven't. I haven't.
Q: You will not. You will not.
A: As I always say, I don't make this an issue of pride who asks. I'm always ready. The DG is at the service of member states. So I'm always ready, I hop on a plane and go if they want to see me. They don't want to see me, then there is another problem. But let's hope that emotions go down a little bit and that we focus again on the problems because the problems are not disappearing. And if we add to the problems, less visibility, less access to the agency, then I don't think we are solving anything, we are aggravating everything. That's my impression.
Q: Going back to the continuity of knowledge, we discussed just now the baseline and how you be able to verify against the baseline, but surely you can establish a new baseline. So what you're really saying is if this three or four weeks go by and there is no JCPOA, but [if] a JCPOA is agreed in two months from now, you'd have to create a new baseline.
A: That's a lot of speculation. If that were to happen—when we say three [or] four months—weeks sorry, weeks—it is because we know the production capacities. We know the systems. We know the facilities. We can have some projections. So when my experts tell me, well, this is beyond this, we cannot really know. So if you were to have a situation where you could revive the JCPOA later on, then you would have to look at the declarations. Go compare, do a thorough review of the whole thing and see whatever it is.
Q: But that's what you do here, isn't it? So the agency's services would not be available to the partner--to the parties of the JCPOA--after four weeks?
A: We wouldn't be able to give them the accuracy that they require.
Q: So the JCPOA is dead if it's not done within the next four weeks?
A: This would be a fatal blow.