VIENNA — The U.N. nuclear watchdog has said it has struck a deal with Iran to cushion the blow of steps Tehran plans to take this week that include ending snap inspections, with both sides agreeing to keep "necessary" monitoring for up to three months.
The announcement by International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi, made at Vienna airport Sunday after a weekend trip to Iran, confirmed that Tehran would go ahead with its plan to slash cooperation with the agency on Tuesday.
Iran has been gradually breaching terms of a 2015 nuclear pact with world powers since the United States, under former President Donald Trump, withdrew in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions. The pact aims to keep Iran at arm's length from being able to make nuclear arms, which Tehran says it has never wanted to build.
President Joe Biden has said he is ready to talk about both nations returning to the accord, although the two sides have been at odds about who makes the first step.
A key part of the Iran's plan for reducing cooperation this week is ending implementation of the Additional Protocol, under which the IAEA has the right to carry out snap inspections in member states at sites not declared to the agency. Iran had agreed to implement the protocol under the 2015 nuclear deal.
"This law exists. This law is going to be applied, which means that the Additional Protocol, much to my regret, is going to be suspended," Grossi told the airport news conference.
Before he spoke, the IAEA and Iran issued a joint statement saying Tehran would continue implementing the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, its core obligations to the agency that allow for monitoring of its declared nuclear facilities.
The IAEA will also continue "necessary verification and monitoring activities for up to three months", the statement said, without specifying what those activities are.
Grossi said the steps that Iran would take this week would be "to a certain extent mitigated" by the terms of this new, temporary agreement.
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"What we agreed is something that is viable, it's useful to bridge this gap that we are having, salvages the situation now. But of course for a stable, sustainable situation there will have to be a political negotiation that is not up to me," Grossi said, suggesting this created a window for talks on salvaging the nuclear deal.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who under President Hassan Rouhani helped reach the atomic accord, said the IAEA would be prevented from accessing footage from their cameras at nuclear sites. That came during a state TV interview Sunday even before his meeting with Grossi.
“This is not a deadline for the world. This is not an ultimatum,” Zarif told the government-run, English-language broadcaster Press TV. “This is an internal domestic issue between the parliament and the government.”
“We have a democracy. We are supposed to implement the laws of the country. And the parliament adopted legislation — whether we like it or not.”
Zarif's comments marked the highest-level acknowledgement yet of what Iran planned to do when it stopped following the so-called Additional Protocol.
Under the protocol with Iran, the IAEA “collects and analyzes hundreds of thousands of images captured daily by its sophisticated surveillance cameras,” the agency said in 2017. The agency also said then that it had placed “2,000 tamper-proof seals on nuclear material and equipment.”
In his interview, Zarif said authorities would be “required by law not to provide the tapes of those cameras.”
Grossi didn't address Zarif's camera remarks Sunday night.
Iran’s parliament in December approved a bill that would suspend part of U.N. inspections of its nuclear facilities if European signatories do not provide relief from oil and banking sanctions by Tuesday.
The agreement with the IAEA has caused a domestic rift in Iran with lawmakers accusing the government of not obeying the bill passed in parliament last year. The dispute has now been referred to Iran’s judiciary by parliament.