The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) once again accuses Iran of a lack of transparency. According to a report leaked to the press on Monday, Tehran has not explained the origin of the enriched uranium traces found at various sites with no stated connection to its atomic program. That attitude goes badly with his participation in the Vienna negotiations to reactivate the nuclear agreement that Iran signed with the great powers in 2015, but from which the United States dropped three years later. Diplomatic sources admit that the continuous tug of war is part of the game, although they warn that time is ticking. If you do not cooperate, it will make it difficult to return to the pact.
The issue of traces of enriched uranium (material for dual civil and military use) is not new. IAEA inspectors discovered them over the past two years at three facilities that Iran had never mentioned to the agency. That fueled suspicions that it had uncontrolled nuclear material. The IAEA has to trace its origin to make sure it is not being diverted to make a bomb.
Three months ago, the United Kingdom, France and Germany stopped a US proposal for the IAEA Board of Governors to criticize Iran for that reason when the director general of that organism, Rafael Grossi, announced that the Islamic Republic was willing to clarify it. . The Europeans were also finalizing their mediation between Tehran and Washington to save the nuclear agreement, moribund since the Trump Administration abandoned it in 2018.
The contacts began in early April in Vienna and, despite contradictory statements about their progress, they continue to move forward. "If we discount the background noise, there is a clear political will to reach an agreement on both sides, even if they do not speak directly to each other," European diplomatic sources assure EL PAÍS, referring to the fact that the Iranian and US delegations communicate through the mediators. "The (Iranian) regime is interested in having the sanctions lifted because they are a noose for its economy," they add.
These are two different processes, one political (the negotiations to rescue the agreement) and the other technical (the IAEA inspections), although with the same final objective: to prevent Iran from taking over atomic weapons. Iranian spokesmen have always denied that this was their intention. However, whenever the UN body encounters an obstacle in its task, there are voices that question Tehran's sincerity.
It also doesn't help that Iran has deliberately and publicly breached the agreement in response to the US exit since 2019. “It's a constant game. And the nuclear traces of unknown origin are part of that game ”, affirm the aforementioned diplomatic sources. The problem, they warn, is that "time is ticking."
In the leaked report on Monday, Grossi told the 35 member countries of the Board of Governors of his "concern about the lack of progress in technical discussions" on traces of processed uranium. That hinders, he adds, "the agency's ability to guarantee the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program." Even more so when since February the inspectors have not had access to the data recorded by their cameras and measuring devices.
Iran then reduced the inspections accepted in the 2015 agreement in an attempt to pressure the Joe Biden Administration to lift the economic sanctions imposed on it by its predecessor. But without that vigilance, it was impossible to resume the negotiation. The IAEA director reached an understanding with the Iranians to maintain the electronic control system for three months and keep the data pending the results of diplomacy.
Now, just as Grossi showed his waistline with that arrangement, then prolonged until the end of June, the IAEA also has to maintain its level of control of nuclear activities because it lacks credibility in it. It remains to be seen whether, when the Board of Governors meets next week, the three European powers will use the body's report to recover the resolution they stopped earlier this year criticizing Tehran, something that would undoubtedly affect the negotiation to get back to the deal.
In the end, deciding whether or not Iran is willing to complete the development of the nuclear cycle that makes it possible to make a bomb ends up being a matter of faith. What matters, diplomatic sources insist, "is to control the process with very strict restrictions, which is what the 2015 agreement achieved, so it is about not interfering in the negotiation to reactivate it and that the IAEA can continue to exercise that vigilance" .
It is not a mere opinion. The data compiled by the inspectors support this: compared to the 202.8 kilos of enriched uranium that the agreement allowed, Iran today has 3,241 kilos, although still far from the six tons it stored before the pact. In addition, it has begun to enrich well above the 3.67% authorized purity, to 60% that is close to the 90% that is required to make bombs, and produced experimental quantities of uranium metal, another material for military use that was forbidden.