Tehran, Iran – Iran and the global nuclear watchdog have extended a technical agreement reached in February for another month, providing a vital window to negotiators in Vienna in their efforts to keep the 2015 nuclear deal alive.
Rafael Grossi, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), announced in the Austrian capital on Monday that the three-month agreement, which was agreed in February, has been extended by one month under the same conditions.
Iran’s envoy to the Vienna-based organisation Kazem Gharibabadi also confirmed the extension until June 24.
The agreement allows the watchdog to maintain its monitoring equipment at Iranian nuclear sites, but Iran will keep the tapes until the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers is restored and United States sanctions are lifted. Former US President Donald Trump walked out of the deal in 2018 and slapped new harsh sanctions on Iran.
Grossi reiterated that the “stop-gap” measure had to be put in place as a way to prevent the agency from “flying blind” in implementing its comprehensive safeguards in Iran.
“The IAEA never accepts any conditions on its mandate and activities,” he stressed, in reference to reports in Iranian media claiming that the country’s Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) would greenlight the extension contingent to “conditions” that were not named.
The West signed the deal in 2015 in an effort to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons, though the Iranian leadership has insisted their nuclear programme is for civilian purposes. As part of the landmark deal, international sanctions were lifted in exchange for Iranian nuclear compliance to be monitored by the IAEA.
The ad hoc February agreement was required after Iran’s parliament passed a law that demanded the cessation of the voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol – a document that provides broad inspection abilities to the IAEA. The Iranian parliamentary action came after the country’s top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated near Tehran in late November.
When the agreement was initially reached, the parliament demanded moderate President Hassan Rouhani’s prosecution for what it perceived as flouting its law.
This time, however, it appeared that parliamentary speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf had been briefed, as on Sunday he simply tried to assure lawmakers that the IAEA will not have access to the tapes of its monitoring equipment.
Crucial time for Vienna agreement
The one-month extension provides a vital window of opportunity to negotiators from Iran, China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, the European Union, and the US to advance their talks.
Russia’s top negotiator, Mikhail Ulyanov, welcomed the news in a tweet, saying “it will help maintain businesslike atmosphere” at the Vienna talks and could facilitate an outcome.
Negotiators have said an agreement on restoring the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as the nuclear deal is officially known, is “within reach” but some differences remain on how to lift US sanctions and bring Iran back to its commitments.
Iran has scaled up its nuclear activity following the US pullout, with uranium enrichment reaching up to 63 percent, its highest ever rate, and much higher than the 3.67 percent rate envisioned as part of the 2015 deal.
Iran continues to refuse to negotiate directly with the US due to its reneging of the multilateral accord, but European leaders are conducting shuffle diplomacy between the two sides.
After completing four rounds of talks in Vienna, the delegates returned to their respective home countries on Friday, and are expected to be back on Tuesday for what is again hoped to be the concluding round.
But Iran and the US are still trading jabs on how to restore the deal ahead of the next talks.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday it remains unclear whether Iran is “ready and willing” to take the necessary steps to return to compliance.
His counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said lifting the sanctions would be a “legal and moral obligation” for the US, “not negotiating leverage”.
Iran is also nearing its presidential elections on June 18, after which Rouhani will leave office in early August when he completes his second term.