© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Iranian Flag Flies in Front of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Headquarters, Amid Crown Virus Pandemic (COVID-19), Vienna, Austria, May 23, 2021. REUTERS / Leonhard Foeger / File Photo
By Francois Murphy
VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran on Thursday dealt an almost fatal blow to the prospect of reviving Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal as it began removing essentially all International Atomic Energy Agency monitoring equipment installed under the agreement, IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said.
Iran has warned retaliation if the IAEA’s 35-nation board adopts a resolution drafted by the United States, France, Britain and Germany criticizing Tehran for its continued failure to explain traces of uranium found in undeclared locations. The resolution was adopted by a large majority late Wednesday.
Iran told the agency overnight that it plans to remove equipment, including 27 IAEA cameras from Thursday, which is “essentially all” surveillance equipment installed under a 2015 agreement that exceeds Iran’s basic obligations to the agency, Grossi told a conference for journalists.
That leaves the opportunity for three to four weeks to renew at least part of the supervision that has been lifted, or the IAEA will lose the ability to merge Iran’s most important nuclear activities, Grossi said.
“I think this would be a fatal blow (to revive the deal),” Grossi said of what would happen if that window remained unused.
A confidential IAEA report to member states seen by Reuters on Thursday night said IAEA inspectors removed IAEA cameras at two locations and put them in storage there under IAEA seals.
U.S. officials who wished to remain anonymous said that even after a period of three or four weeks, Iran could still provide additional information to enable a revival of the nuclear deal.
“We are not on the verge of death (next) for three to four weeks,” the senior US official said, adding that the agreement could be renewed, although the longer Iran denied access, the more transparency it would have to give the IAEA.
Indirect negotiations between Iran and the United States on reviving the 2015 agreement have been stalled since March.
“Do you think we would withdraw from our positions if you pass a resolution on the Board of Governors (IAEA)? In the name of God and the great people of Iran, we will not step back from our positions,” Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said in a speech.
Since then-President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the agreement and reintroduced sanctions on Tehran in 2018, Iran has violated many of the restrictions of the agreement on its nuclear activities. Enriches uranium to a level close to weapons.
Western powers warn that the possibilities of making a nuclear bomb are getting closer. Iran denies it wants to.
France, Britain and Germany, the so-called E3, condemned Iranian actions on Thursday and called on him to fully continue co-operation with the monitoring group and end nuclear escalation.
“These actions only exacerbate the situation and complicate our efforts to resume full implementation of the JCPoA. They also call into question Iran’s commitment to a successful outcome,” E3 said in a statement not including the United States, as on Wednesday.
Washington issued a separate statement, not condemning Iran’s actions and calling on Iran to choose diplomacy and de-escalation.
Iran has been storing data recorded with additional surveillance equipment since February last year, which means that the IAEA can only hope to access it later. Grossi said that it is not clear what will happen with that data now.
He added, however, that more than 40 IAEA cameras will continue to operate as part of Iran’s main surveillance that preceded the 2015 agreement.