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Iran, U.N. Regulators Agree On Reduced — But Continued — Nuclear Verification

Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Mariano Grossi meets over the weekend with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Fatemeh Bahrami
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Mariano Grossi meets over the weekend with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

ISTANBUL — After a weekend visit to Tehran by Rafael Grossi, Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the agency and Iran announced their agreement to keep some verification activities going for the immediate future.

Iran had previously announced that, as of Tuesday, Feb. 23, it would suspend snap inspections by IAEA inspectors. Such unscheduled visits were seen by some as an effective means of verifying that Iran wasn't pursuing a clandestine nuclear weapons program.

That announcement prompted Grossi's visit Saturday. Following the trip, he tweeted, "Intensive consultations led to good results." The IAEA chief and the head of the the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Ali- Akbar Salehi, released a joint statement about the agreement.

Tehran insists it has no interest in acquiring atomic weapons; critics point to evidence of a past weapons program, and want strict limits on Iran's ability to enrich uranium. Low-enriched uranium can be fuel for a nuclear power plant to generate electricity; when enriched to 90% purity, it's suitable for a nuclear warhead.

Iran's parliament passed legislation requiring the AEOI to breach terms of the 2015 nuclear agreement in response to former President Donald Trump's 2018 withdrawal from the deal and re-impose sanctions. The sanctions have damaged the Iranian economy but have had no discernible impact on Iran's behavior in the region or the development of its ballistic missile program — two things critics say the nuclear deal failed to address.

President Biden has said he's ready to talk about how the U.S. and Iran might both return to full compliance with the deal, but Iran must go first. Iranian officials say Washington has it backward — first the U.S. must rejoin the deal and unconditionally lift all sanctions, then Iran will return to compliance. Iranian leaders have also specified that they intend to "verify" that the U.S. has taken all the steps it promised and that sanctions are fully lifted before returning to compliance with the agreement. It's not clear what that verification would entail or how long it might take.

Upon returning to Vienna, Grossi told reporters the new arrangement means "less access" for IAEA inspectors, and he said there will be "things we lose." Separately, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad-Zarif said the reduced access would include blocking the IAEA from accessing footage from the cameras it has installed at Iranian nuclear sites.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.