Part 4: Challenges to IAEA Monitoring

The U.N. nuclear watchdog may not be able to verify the nature or scope of Iran’s nuclear program if it does not restore 27 cameras that have monitored its activities over the past six years, Rafael Grossi, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) warned on June 12. The diplomatic challenge of reviving the historic nuclear deal, brokered in 2015 between Iran and the world’s six major powers, had become “extremely” difficult as a result, he said. Iran began removing monitoring and surveillance equipment at key nuclear facilities on June 9. It appeared to be retaliating for the IAEA vote—30 to 2, with 3 abstentions—to censure Tehran for failing to explain uranium traces at three undeclared sites that date back to a covert program before 2003. The following is a transcript of Grossi’s appearance on CNN Fareed Zakaria GPS.


ZAKARIA: Toward the end of last month the U.S. special envoy for Iran said that Tehran could be just weeks away from having enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon.

Then this Thursday, the International Atomic Energy Agency announced that Iran plans to remove cameras that enable the agency to monitor the Islamic Republic's nuclear program. 27 cameras that were installed at nuclear facilities as part of the 2015 Iran deal. The IAEA's director general, Mariano Rafael Grossi, said the removal could be a fatal blow to the hope of reviving that deal. Mr. Grossi joins me now. 

Can you explain to us why this issue of taking 27 cameras out is so dangerous to the prospects of a new deal?

GROSSI: Well, it is quite serious. We're talking about 27 cameras, and by the way they have been removed as we speak.
You said they had a plan. Now they have been removed together with some other online monitoring systems that we used to have.

The issue here is very simple. The less my inspectors and my analysts see what's happening in Iran, the less ability we have to know how much material they are enriching, how many centrifuges they are putting together.

And so this is obviously a very, very serious thing with regards to not only the possibility of reviving the 2015 agreement, the JCPOA, but in general terms.

I have said that in such a situation I might no longer be in a position to confirm the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program writ large. So it is indeed a very, very serious move they have taken.

ZAKARIA: So to understand it, what you're saying in a sense is even if let's say six months from now they were to go back to -- you know, things were to go back, at that point with a six-month gap with no information it's difficult for you to know what they've made, what they're ferreted away, what they've hidden. Correct?

GROSSI: It would be extremely difficult. We would have to mount a very ad hoc system with new declarations with the ability for my inspectors to go back, to check records, to look into places.

So the more -- the longer the lapse without the visibility we need the more difficult it will be because no one, no one can go into an agreement without knowing what your baseline is.

You go into an agreement saying OK, we have so much of this. We are going to control, we are going to ship out that amount of material, but without me -- I mean, me, the IAEA saying these are the amounts, then it may be well the case that there are unaccounted for amounts of material or inventory that, you know, is escaping the eye.

So, frankly, I don't see in whose interest is to curtail inspectors. Normally history tells us and recent history tells us that it is never a good thing to start saying to international inspectors go home. When you go this way normally things get much more problematic.

And this is what I'm saying now and this is what I'm telling first of all my Iranian counterparts. We have to sit down now. We have to address the situation. We have to continue working together.

ZAKARIA: I assume that what your Iranian counterparts are saying to you is, look, the United States pulled out of the deal and therefore killed the deal. Why should we continue to observe a deal that the other party is not observing?

GROSSI: Well, but that might have been valid, if I may, a year ago when there was no process to try to revive the deal. To the best of my understanding, unless I missed something in the last few minutes no one has said it is over.

No one has said the attempts to revive this agreement are done. So when we take these steps we make this way back to an agreement, extremely more difficult. And I don't see -- I fail to grasp the end game about this.

The only way for Iran to get the confidence, the trust they so badly need in order to move their economy forward and to do all the things that they profess they want to do is to allow the inspectors of the IAEA to be present. If they start cutting the connections, if they start removing cameras, I don't see how this is going to happen.

ZAKARIA: Am I right in saying that you've met with the prime minister of Israel, Naftali Bennett, recently?

GROSSI: Yes, I have met him -- met with him. I meet, you know, many heads of state in government, yes, him.

ZAKARIA: In your experience briefly because we're running out of time, in your conversations do you get the sense that for Israel things are reaching a critical point, and you can imagine the Israelis taking some extreme measures if Iran continues on the current path?

GROSSI: Good question to put to Israel. My message to Israel on this and on other things is that the IAEA can do this job.
The international inspectors, when given the access they require, can give the international community the confidence that no one is going to proliferate or to add nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

So this is-- for me, this was very important. And as the head of an international organization, I must talk to everybody. I hope this is well-understood.