Is the International Atomic Energy Agency 'flying blind' on Iran?

It will take months after a deal in principle is reached for Tehran to export all of the additional and excess enriched uranium it has illegally produced.

Rooftops of Yazd on a sunny winter day in Iran. (photo credit: GETTY IMAGES)
Rooftops of Yazd on a sunny winter day in Iran.
(photo credit: GETTY IMAGES)
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Grossi told the world he had reached a “temporary, technical understanding” with Iranian officials for three months so that his inspectors would not be “flying blind” on its nuclear program.
He made the announcement in an extraordinary press conference in the middle of the night Israel time between Sunday and Monday.
What deal did he reach following Iran’s withdrawal from what is known as the nuclear “Additional Protocol” requirement? What was the purpose of his comments?
While Grossi would not specify exactly what the deal was, he told reporters not a single IAEA inspector would be withdrawn from the Islamic Republic.
Further, Tehran had agreed to voluntarily allow snap inspections to continue, he said.
The constant electronic monitoring would continue, and from his perspective, the full “necessary degree of monitoring and verification” activities would remain in place, he added.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said with his country’s withdrawal from the Additional Protocol inspection requirements, cooperation with the IAEA would be reduced by 20%-30%.
Grossi declined to address percentages, emphasizing again that all necessary activities to ensure the Islamic Republic was not yet moving toward a nuclear weapon would continue. He acknowledged that a law passed by the parliament to reduce cooperation “exists” and that it must be taken seriously.
The understanding he had reached with Iran was “not a replacement,” and he hoped for a “return to a fuller thing,” he added.
However, whether full cooperation by Iran returns and continues beyond the three months was part of “a political negotiation that is not up to me,” he said.
What was the purpose of these seemingly contradictory and paradoxical comments?
The truth is that it seems Grossi got everything he and probably the West wanted. But he needed to help Iran save face so that it could act like it had complied with its threats without actually changing anything of significance.
After all, if every single IAEA inspector can continue to work in Iran, all constant electronic monitoring continues, and snap inspections will be allowed, what exactly is the mysterious 20%-30% that was cut back?
TO HELP save face, it seems that the heart of the deal is to have Iran pull out of the Additional Protocol and then do everything important the document required on a voluntary, quieter basis as part of a bilateral deal with the IAEA.
This way, the Islamic Republic can claim it stood tough, while avoiding the West, Israel and the Saudis “flying blind” in any way that might lead to a more serious threat by Jerusalem to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.
This path to avoid a confrontation and keep negotiations going was forecast by Iranian media over the weekend with a flurry of stories about Grossi’s visit and messaging from the parliament that they had been respected.
Finally, the other key provision is the three months.
Iran’s presidential election is in June. Three months takes things to the end of May.
After tossing its redlines of early February and late February for the US to reduce sanctions out the window, the new redline Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is hoping for is essentially before Election Day.
He is term-limited from continuing, but his pragmatist camp hopes some kind of deal before elections will help them maintain the presidency over ultra-hard-liners who oppose even the idea of diplomacy.
The three months are an attempt to come to terms with the reality that the Biden administration is holding to a tougher line about lifting sanctions and filling some of the original 2015 deal’s loopholes than the ayatollahs might have expected.
However, even the new deadline is somewhat of a bluff.
It will take months after a deal in principle is reached for Iran to export all of the additional and excess enriched uranium it has illegally produced to reduce other violations and for the US to remove sanctions.
At most, the Islamic Republic can hope for some kind of partial reduction of sanctions for a corresponding partial reduction of violations or an announcement of a deal in principle that may lead to sanctions relief later in 2021.
Alternatively, the US may even prefer to only make major changes after the June election so that it knows the new president will not make any major reversals, The Jerusalem Post has been told by some top officials.
But at least for the next three months, Grossi has achieved an atmosphere in which negotiations between Iran and the West can go forward.