Iran revokes licences of some IAEA inspectors

20 September 2023

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi has condemned a decision by Iran to withdraw the designation of several experienced Agency inspectors assigned to conduct verification activities in Iran under the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] Safeguards Agreement.

“These inspectors are among the most experienced Agency experts with unique knowledge in enrichment technology. They have conducted essential verification work at the enrichment facilities in Iran which are under Agency safeguards,” he noted. Iran’s decision has effectively removed about one third of the core group of the Agency’s most experienced inspectors designated for Iran.

“This measure, while formally permitted by the NPT Safeguards Agreement, has been exercised by Iran in a manner that affects in a direct and severe way the ability of the IAEA to conduct effectively its inspections in Iran, “ Grossi said. “I strongly condemn this disproportionate and unprecedented unilateral measure which affects the normal planning and conduct of Agency verification activities in Iran and openly contradicts the cooperation that should exist between the Agency and Iran.”

He added: “This profoundly regrettable decision by Iran is another step in the wrong direction and constitutes an unnecessary blow to an already strained relationship between the IAEA and Iran in the implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement. Without effective cooperation, confidence and trust will continue to be elusive and the Agency will not be in a position to discharge effectively its verification mandate in Iran and provide credible assurances that nuclear material and activities in Iran are for peaceful purposes.”

He concluded: “I call upon the Iranian Government to reconsider its decision and to return to a path of cooperation with the Agency. I also call upon the highest authorities of Iran to engage with me at the earliest opportunity to correct course and work with the Agency for the complete clarification of the outstanding safeguards issues.”

In response to Grossi’s statement, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani confirmed that Iran was taking action to cancel the appointment of several experienced IAEA inspectors. “Unfortunately, the three European countries and the United States, despite the positive, constructive and continuous interaction of the Islamic Republic with the IAEA, are excessive and aimed at destroying cooperation of Iran and the IAEA,” he said.

“They abused the [IAEA] Board of Governors' [meeting] for their political purposes. Iran has warned more about the consequences of such political abuses, including trying to politicise the atmosphere at the IAEA.” He added: "Of course, the Islamic Republic of Iran will continue to work positively within the framework of the agreements, emphasising the need for the IAEA's neutrality."

Iran’s action came after the IAEA Board of Governors issued a statement earlier accusing Iran of non-compliance with its safeguards commitments and urged it to resolve outstanding issues. The statement was initiated by the UK, the US, France and Germany.

Following the statement, Kanaani said the cooperation between Iran and the IAEA had increased significantly in accordance with a mutual statement announced in earlier 2023. This, he pointed out, had resulted in the resolution of several technical issues and more interaction between the two sides, while talks were underway to resolve the remaining issues. He accused the four Western states of “seeking to distort facts about Iran’s sincere cooperation with the IAEA through their propaganda campaign in the Board of Governors and under the pretext of defending the agency and its safeguards system”.

Kanaani meanwhile thanked a group of countries for their support, which he said had opposed “the West’s unconstructive stance” and had signed another statement supporting Iran-IAEA cooperation and welcoming the progress made.

In addition, the Iranian Foreign Ministry criticised the UK, France and Germany (E3) for their decision to retain the sanctions against Tehran, relating to the ballistic missiles and nuclear issues, in contravention of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The sanctions were due to expire next month but the three countries said they intended to keep them in place.

Under the JCPOA between Iran the P5+1 group of countries (the USA, UK, France, Russia, and China plus Germany) Iran had 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 redevelop its nuclear programme when the European parties to the agreement failed to offer any compensation for the US's withdrawal.

The E3 also accused Iran of violating the JCPOA, referring to the Iran’s actions in this regard. The Foreign Ministry reminded them that Iran began to take those countermeasures in line with the JCPOA's Articles 26 and 36, which allowed the deal's participants to scale back their commitments should the other parties do the same.

Iran said in a statement that it was "unacceptable" for the E3 to base their decision on "actions on the part of Iran that are completely legal and (were taken) in reaction to the US's withdrawal and the European trio's inaction." The statement added: "The European parties' measure will definitely be counterproductive for the efforts that are aimed at management of (existing) tensions."

Image: Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Nasser Kanaani has confirmed that Iran will be cancelling the appointment of several IAEA inspectors assigned to conduct verification activities under the NPT Safeguards Agreement

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