Iran Should Engage UN Nuclear Watchdog 'Without Further Delay,' Says U.S. Official

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A number of new generation Iranian centrifuges are seen on display during Iran's National Nuclear Energy Day in Tehran, Iran in April.
A number of new generation Iranian centrifuges are seen on display during Iran's National Nuclear Energy Day in Tehran, Iran in April. Credit: IRANIAN PRESIDENCY OFFICE/ REU

Iran should engage the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) without delay to ensure the UN nuclear watchdog's ability to monitor its compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal remains in place, a U.S. State Department official said on Friday.

"Iran should engage the IAEA without further delay to ensure appropriate measures remain in place so the IAEA's continuity of knowledge on JCPOA monitoring can be readily re-established," the U.S. official said, referring to the nuclear deal formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The IAEA on Friday demanded an immediate reply from Iran on whether it would extend a monitoring agreement that expired overnight, prompting an Iranian envoy to respond that Tehran was under no obligation to provide an answer.

The agreement continued the IAEA's collection of data on some of Tehran's activities, cushioning the blow of Iran's decision in February to reduce cooperation with the agency.

"An immediate response from Iran is needed in this regard," the IAEA said in a statement summarizing a report by its chief Rafael Grossi to its 35-nation Board of Governors that was also seen by Reuters.

Grossi wrote to Iran last week "to understand Iran's position regarding the possible continued collection, recording and retention of data", the report said. As of Friday, Iran had not indicated if it intended to maintain the arrangement, it said.

Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, "said that Iran was not required to comply" to the IAEA head's request, Iran's semi-official news agency Tasnim reported.

Before Grossi updated the board, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said any failure by Tehran to extend the monitoring agreement would be a "serious concern" for broader negotiations.

Iran and the United States have been holding indirect talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and major powers that imposed restrictions on Tehran's nuclear activities in exchange for lifting international sanctions.

The Vienna talks, which began in April, are now in a pause that had been expected to last until early July, but failure to extend the monitoring accord could throw those negotiations into disarray.

"Regarding the IAEA, this remains a serious concern," Blinken told a news conference in Paris alongside his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian. "The concern has been communicated to Iran and needs to be resolved."

The United States abandoned the deal under then-President Donald Trump in 2018 and reimposed harsh U.S. sanctions, prompting Iran to respond by violating many of its restrictions. President Joe Biden's administration wants to revive the accord, but Tehran and Washington have yet to agree which side should take what steps, and when.

Significant differences with Iran

One of Iran's moves to reduce compliance was its February decision to end the deal's extra IAEA monitoring of some nuclear activities. The temporary agreement continued that monitoring and a one-month extension ended overnight.

Officials on all sides have said there are major issues still to be resolved before the nuclear deal can be revived.

"We still have significant differences with Iran," Blinken said, adding that he hoped a resumption of talks in the coming days could resolve them.

"We are only going to reach an agreement with Iran if it honors its obligations under the JCPOA, and we are just not there yet," he said.

Le Drian echoed that.

"We're waiting for Iranian authorities to take the final difficult decisions to allow for the revival of the 2015 nuclear deal," he said. 

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