The Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) has rebutted media reports that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Tehran had agreed to reinstall 10 monitoring cameras at the Natanz nuclear complex in central Iran. AEOI spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said the reactivation of IAEA cameras had taken place at a nuclear plant in Isfahan, which he defined as a “centrifuge manufacturing facility”. He said that Natanz had been incorrectly identified by various media sources as the site.

“In the video interview, which is also available in full, Kamalvandi talked about the installation of cameras in Isfahan; however, in only one part of the interview, ‘Natanz’ was mentioned by mistake instead of ‘the Isfahan facility’, an AEIO statement the statement noted. This is despite the fact that, in accordance with the agreement between Tehran and the IAEA, almost “no surveillance cameras” are in use at the Martyr Ahmadi Roshan Enrichment Centre (Natanz), according to the statement.

In June 2022, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi told a press conference that Iran had informed the Agency of its intention to remove 27 cameras as well as an online monitoring system and a flowmeter from its nuclear facilities. The cameras would be removed in the coming days from various sites, including Natanz, Isfahan, Tehran and Karaj. He estimated that some 40 cameras would remain in place.

The equipment removed was basically all of the additional equipment which had been installed beyond the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement (CSA) as a result of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between Iran the P5+1 group of countries (the USA, UK, France, Russia, and China plus Germany) under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear development in return for the lifting of sanctions. However, after former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal and reimposed sanctions in 2018, Iran began to gradually roll back on the restrictions imposed by the JCPOA, including oversight by the IAEA after the European parties to the agreement failed to put any measures in place to mitigate those sanctions. Grossi had nevertheless previously managed to reach agreement with Iran to keep most of the monitoring equipment in place. Iran’s move was a response to a resolution passed by the IAEA Board of Governors on 8 June, sponsored by the US the UK, Germany, and France accusing Iran of insufficient cooperation with the IAEA on traces of highly enriched uranium (HEU) identified at three sites.

Grossi visited Tehran in March at a time when negotiation to revive the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) had stalled. A joint IAEA-AEOI statement issued after that meeting said the high-level meetings had “addressed the importance of taking steps in order to facilitate enhanced cooperation, to expedite as appropriate the resolution of outstanding safeguards issues”. It added: “Both sides recognise that such positive engagements can pave the way for wider agreements among state parties.”

Grossi told the IAEA Board of Governors in June that the process of implementation of the Joint Statement had started “and some progress has been made, but not as much as I had hoped”. For example, in early May the Agency installed surveillance cameras at workshops at one location where centrifuge rotor tubes and bellows are manufactured. “In addition, in order to monitor the enrichment level of the HEU being produced by Iran at declared facilities, the Agency has for the first time installed an enrichment monitoring device at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant as well as at the Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant in Natanz. This will help us detect more rapidly any variations in enrichment levels at these facilities.” This was a monitoring device at Natanz – not cameras.

He added: “But this is a fraction of what we envisaged and what needs to happen now is a sustained and uninterrupted process that leads to all the commitments contained in the Joint Statement being fulfilled without further delay.” He also told the Board that Iran had resolved two outstanding inquiries from the IAEA related to the presence of HEU particles at several sites. The issue of reinstalling cameras at Natanz and sites other than Isfahan, however, still remains to be resolved.

Image: IAEA surveillance camera (courtesy of IAEA)