The aim is to bring Iran and the US back into compliance with the JCPOA within three months of the agreement coming into force

IAEA reaches temporary deal with Iran

photo_camera WANA/MAJID ASGARIPOUR - Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif meets with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi in Tehran, Iran, 21 February 2021

23 February was the deadline set by Iran for the United States to lift the sanctions imposed on the country by the Trump administration, after pulling the country out of the nuclear agreement. This was stipulated in the law passed by the Iranian Parliament last December, which, in addition to including an increase in the production of enriched uranium, stated that if the sanctions had not been lifted by 23 February, Iran would block access by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to Iran's nuclear facilities in order to certify the non-war use of its programme.

For several months now, Iran has been taking steps in the opposite direction to the 2015 nuclear deal, something that has made it difficult for the United States to position itself in relation to the JCPOA, which it withdrew from in 2018 and to which Joe Biden, the new president, had shown his intention to return. However, the fact that Iran is already failing to comply with some of the sections, such as the production of enriched uranium, has forced the Biden administration to indicate that until they are complied with, his country will not return to the JCPOA.

Atalayar_AIEA Iran

The diplomatic standoff has continued in recent weeks. Both Tehran and Washington indicated that it should be the other that should make the first move, as 23 February approached and the possibility of IAEA inspectors losing much of their access to Iran's nuclear programme loomed. Last week, there was already a slight change in discourse on the US side, with the imminent arrival in Iran of Rafael Grossi, the Argentinean diplomat who heads the IAEA.

Over the weekend, Grossi met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Agency, Ali Akbar Salehi. The Argentinean has left Tehran with a bilateral agreement between the IAEA and Iran for a three-month extension, which avoids a blockade, but significantly reduces access for international inspectors. 

Atalayar_Rafael Grossi

On his arrival in Vienna, Grossi acknowledged that this is not the best scenario, but that the agreement allows Iran and the United States to gain some time to reach an agreement on the JCPOA, without the IAEA inspectors losing their ability to verify the evolution of the Iranian programme. Thus, although the suspension of the voluntary application of the additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which gave IAEA inspectors access without prior notice, will come into force tomorrow, they will have limited access for the next three months thanks to the agreement between the Agency and Iran. The IAEA Director General has indicated that it is now the turn of politics, which is not his role, and that the IAEA has done its best to bridge the existing vacuum. 

On the Iranian side, the foreign minister again said on Iranian television on Sunday that all the steps taken by Iran "are reversible", but that for this to happen the US must return to the JCPOA and lift the sanctions imposed on Iran. Zarif accused Biden of pursuing the same policies as Trump, because according to him, there has not been any gesture that shows an attempt to de-escalate the situation. Zarif also pointed out that the balance between respect for the law passed in parliament and the agreement signed must be assessed.

Atalayar_Salehi Grossi AIEA Iran

According to the Iranian news agency Fars, Iranian lawmakers have reportedly temporarily suspended the development of the budget law in order to study the agreement reached between the Iranian government and the IAEA. Shariati, one of the Iranian parliamentarians, said that the government should come to parliament to present the agreement with all the details, and that it should be discussed whether it violates the law passed in December, something that "should not be tolerated".

With this technical agreement, which limits the IAEA's loss of access to Iran's nuclear programme to between 20 and 30 per cent of what it had until now, a highly volatile situation has been stabilised, in which politics must now play a leading role. Enrique Mora, deputy secretary general of the EU's External Action Service, has proposed to both parties, the US and Iran, an informal meeting to try to begin to bring positions closer together.

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