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Iran and IAEA reach agreement to resume negotiations and avert JCPOA crisis

Rafael Grossi travelled to Tehran on Saturday night where he met with Iran's nuclear chief
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PHOTO/ WANA (West Asia News Agency) vía REUTERS  -   Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Mohammad Eslami and Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Grossi attend a press conference, in Tehran, Iran, 12 September 2021.

Despite months of negotiations in Vienna in early 2021 to restore the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the results were meagre, if not non-existent. The talks were marked by continuous reproaches and no willingness on anyone's part to budge. Neither the US was willing to lift the sanctions imposed on Iran, nor did the Iranians want to return to an agreement that limits Iranian enrichment to 3.67%, while they are currently enriching and storing it at 60%.

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AFP PHOTO / HO / PRESIDENCIA IRANÍ - Mohammad Eslami, Head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran

The arrival of the new government in Tehran opened the door to a new start to negotiations, something that President Ebrahim Raisi ruled out, at least in the first few months. Now, however, the trip to the Iranian capital by Rafel Grossi, head of the UN nuclear watchdog, has changed the course of negotiations that seemed destined to remain deadlocked. After a meeting with Mohammad Eslami, the newly appointed head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, described by both sides as "very productive", an agreement has been reached to resume talks in Vienna in search, once again, of a return to the JCPOA.

Since the unilateral exit by the United States in 2018 under the presidency of Donald Trump, the situation has only worsened. Iran has not respected any of the clauses of the agreement and has threatened on numerous occasions to further increase uranium enrichment. At the moment, they have reached 60% purity, which is of serious concern to the IAEA, which sees the possibility of developing Iranian nuclear weapons, which requires uranium enriched to about 90%, coming ever closer.

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AFP/AFP - Map of Iran with the main nuclear facilities

One of the issues discussed at the meeting between Grossi and Eslami was the monitoring of Iran's nuclear power plants. The suspension of the implementation of the additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was a blow to trust between the IAEA and Iran. Under the protocol, international inspectors had the ability to conduct unannounced checks at any country's nuclear facilities. Referring to this, Grossi said at the time that "the Agency's confidence that it can maintain continued knowledge (of Iran's nuclear activities) is deteriorating over time and has now deteriorated further".

There is an agreement signed three months ago - originally intended to last only one month - and still in force, whereby Iran allowed IAEA inspectors access to monitoring equipment. Although access was very limited and the scope was minimal, the organisation headed by Grossi wants to extend this agreement. Therefore, in the meeting between Rafael Grossi and Mohammad Eslami, it was agreed that the IAEA chief would travel again in the near future to replace the memory cards of the cameras and the security systems of the power plants.

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PHOTO/ Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS - Ebrahim Raisi, Iran's President during a press conference in Tehran.

Iranian officials say their intentions are to improve the country's ties with the United Nations and, in particular, with the International Atomic Energy Agency. "What matters to us, and what the agency also emphasises, is to build trust," said Eslami after the meeting. However, if that was their intention, they have done the opposite in recent months. Iran has been showing different faces on the JCPOA for some time now. While they are now showing their more conciliatory side, just a week ago it became known that they had increased their stockpile of highly enriched uranium.

It should be borne in mind that since Raisi's arrival to the presidency, everything surrounding the nuclear deal has been kept aside due to the numerous controversies and conflicts in which Iran has been mired, albeit on its own merits. Rafael Grossi believes that his organisation "needs to sit down with the new administration and get them to compromise", something that seems highly unlikely since Raisi has refused to be present "for the sake of the negotiation", a further sign that talks with his representatives will not be at all an easy task.