Iran began curtailing inspections to put pressure on President Joe Biden’s administration to lift crippling sanctions after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal with Iran in 2018.
As part of the agreement, the IAEA placed around 2,000 tamper-evident seals on nuclear material and equipment. These seals are sent electronically to the inspectors. Automated measuring devices also provided real-time data from the program.
Talks are currently underway in Vienna about a re-entry of the USA into the agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
Since the US withdrew from the deal, Iran has consistently violated its various restrictions, including the types of centrifuges it can use, the amount of enriched uranium it can store, and the purity to which it can be enriched.
In the IAEA report, for the first time, the agency released estimates of Iran’s supplies instead of exact numbers, saying that total Iranian enriched uranium supplies were on the 22nd of its last quarterly report.
That was a decrease from a nearly 525 kilograms (1,157 pounds) increase reported in the latest quarterly report.
Although it was not immediately clear what was causing the decline, an explosion occurred in its Natanz underground nuclear facility in April that affected centrifuges. Iran has not yet provided a full account of what happened in what it calls “nuclear terrorism”. Israel, widely suspected of carrying out the attack, has not commented publicly on it.
The nuclear deal signed in 2015 with the US, Germany, France, Great Britain, China and Russia only allows Iran to store a total of 202.8 kilograms of enriched uranium.
The agency said current inventory levels include 62.8 kilograms (138.5 pounds) of uranium enriched to 20% purity and 2.4 kg enriched to 60% purity – well over the JCPOA permissible purity of 3.67%.
Despite Iran’s violations of the agreement, the other nations involved have stressed that the agreement is still important as it allows international inspectors to continue their surveillance of Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Under a confidential agreement with Iran known as the “Additional Protocol”, the IAEA collects and analyzes images from a number of surveillance cameras installed at Iranian nuclear sites. These cameras helped him monitor Tehran’s program to see if it was complying with the nuclear deal.
The Iranian parliament approved a bill in December that would suspend some of the UN’s inspections of its nuclear facilities if the European signatories did not ease the oil and banking sanctions by February.
However, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi was able to negotiate a last-minute deal in February that promised the IAEA to keep and hand over the footage captured by its surveillance cameras if diplomats in Vienna reached an agreement to lift the sanctions that threatened him. Otherwise, Tehran said it would delete the pictures.
That deal is still pending, but Grossi negotiated a one-month extension last week.
This means that his agency cannot access the images from the cameras for the time being, but could have access to the material again if an agreement is reached – a situation that Grossi described as an emergency measure that was “not ideal”.
The last minute discussions further underscored the tightening window of time for the US and others to reach agreements with Iran as it has a tough stance on the international community on its nuclear program.
Negotiations in Vienna continue to see if both the US and Iran can re-enter the deal that limited Tehran’s uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. However, Iran and the US are not negotiating directly.
The US is not at the table because it unilaterally withdrew from the deal under Trump in 2018, who restored and tightened American sanctions in a campaign of “maximum pressure” to force Iran to renegotiate the pact with further concessions . Biden wants to rejoin the deal, however, and there is a US delegation in Vienna that is participating in indirect talks with Iran, with diplomats from the other world powers acting as mediators.
The deal promises Iran economic incentives in return for curtailing its nuclear program. The reintroduction of American sanctions has shaken the country’s economy, and Tehran has responded with a steady increase in the number of violations of the agreement’s restrictions, such as the rest of the world, to provide aid.
The ultimate goal of the deal is to stop Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, something it doesn’t want. Iran now has enough enriched uranium to build a bomb, but nowhere near the amount it had before the nuclear deal was signed.
Negotiations and tensions over the program come against the backdrop of Iran’s upcoming presidential election on the 18th. Analysts believe hardliners have an advantage in voting.
The IAEA also said that after many months it is still awaiting replies from Iran at three sites where inspections have found traces of uranium of man-made origin.