Grossi reports to IAEA Board on progress in Iran

14 June 2023

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi has reminded the Agency at a recent Board of Governors’ (BOG’s) meeting that the IAEA has not been able to perform JCPOA verification and monitoring activities in Iran in relation to the production and inventory of centrifuges, rotors and bellows, heavy water and uranium ore concentrate for two and one quarter years, including the period after June 2022 when no surveillance and monitoring equipment was installed and operating.

The 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed by the USA, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany, had placed restrictions on Iran’s nuclear development, including capping uranium enrichment at 3.67%, in exchange for sanctions relief. However, in 2018, former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal and imposed crushing sanctions on Iran’s economy, prompting Iran, in turn, to increase its uranium enrichment and reduce the number of IAEA cameras monitoring its facilities – actions permitted under the JCPOA in such circumstances.

Grossi’s report to the BOG indicates that Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium has risen by over a quarter in three months. This includes its stockpile of uranium enriched up to 20% U-235, which is approaching half a ton, and its stockpile of high enriched uranium (HEU) – enriched up to 60% U-235 – which is well over 100 kg.

“You will find information regarding how we are implementing the NPT Safeguards Agreement in Iran, as well as implementation of the Joint Statement of 4 March, in my latest report on the NPT Safeguards Agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran”, he said. The joint IAEA-Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) statement issued after talks in Tehran 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 said 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.”

However, 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.” The report noted that Iran has resolved two outstanding inquiries from the IAEA related to the presence of HEU particles at several sites. Grossi said that Iran had provided a possible explanation for the presence of depleted uranium in one part of the location known as Marivan. “I note that our assessment for the location still stands and I reiterate that the remaining outstanding safeguards issues stem from Iran’s obligations under the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement between Iran and the Agency and still need to be resolved for the Agency to be in a position to provide assurance that Iran’s nuclear programme is exclusively peaceful.”

Grossi had faced fierce criticism from Israel for resolving the issues with Iran. Asked about this at a press conference, Grossi said the IAEA will "never politicise" its work in Iran, insisting that the Agency has been "very fair but firm." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had told his Cabinet in televised remarks: “"Iran is continuing to lie to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The agency's capitulation to Iranian pressure is a black stain on its record.” He added: "If the IAEA becomes a political organisation, then its oversight activity in Iran is without significance, as will be its reports on Iran's nuclear activity."

Grossi stressed in response that the Agency’s work is "neutral, it is impartial, it is technical”. He told reporters: "We will always say things as they are," adding that he would "never enter into a polemic" with the head of government. "We never politicise. We have our standards and apply them always," he said. “The politicisation is in the eye of the beholder." Before Netanyahu's comments, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lior Haiat said in a statement that the explanations provided by Iran for the presence of nuclear material at the Marivan site are "not reliable or technically possible”. Grossi insisted that the IAEA will "never, ever" water down its safeguards standards. "We have been strict, technically impartial and, as I like to say, very fair but firm."

Image: IAEA Director General, Rafael Mariano Grossi (courtesy of IAEA)

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