International Atomic Energy Agency Director Rafael Grossi on Saturday denounced Iran’s “unprecedented” move earlier in the day to bar inspectors from overseeing Tehran’s nuclear activities, Reuters reported.
“I strongly condemn this disproportionate and unprecedented unilateral measure which affects the normal planning and conduct of agency verification activities in Iran,” he said, adding that it “openly contradicts the cooperation that should exist between the agency and Iran.”
Iran is allowed to bar inspectors, called “de-designation,” under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Agreement. However, according to the IAEA Iran’s announcement that it would bar “several” inspectors, without specifying how many, went beyond normal practice.
“These inspectors are among the most experienced agency experts, with unique knowledge in enrichment technology,” the agency said. “With today’s decision, Iran has effectively removed about one third of the core group of the Agency’s most experienced inspectors designated for Iran.”
The European Union urged Iran on Sunday to reconsider its decision, noting nuclear oversight was part of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or Iran nuclear deal, signed in 2015.
Iran defended its decision, accusing the United States, Britain, France and Germany of politicizing the IAEA.
“Unfortunately, despite Iran’s positive, constructive and continuous interaction of the with the agency, the three European countries and the United States abused the [IAEA’s] Board of Governors for their own political purposes,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani told state media.
Iran’s move came in response to a warning issued by the United States, Britain, France and Germany (the E3) at the IAEA’s Board of Governors last week, according to Reuters.
The three countries warned that the Board will take further action if Tehran doesn’t comply with previous IAEA resolutions that it explain uranium particles found at various locations in Iran, and with its obligations under the NPT.
“Iran tends to bristle at resolutions against it and respond by expanding or accelerating its nuclear activities. Iran says its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful uses. Western powers say there is no credible civilian explanation for it,” Reuters reported.
Prior to departing for a seven-day visit to the United States on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “Today, the world is seeing—and I will certainly emphasize this—that Iran is violating all of its commitments, that it brazenly lies, and that it intends both to develop nuclear weapons and continue its aggression in the region.”
Iran’s move comes after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken signed off last week on sanctions waivers paving the way for international banks to unfreeze $6 billion dollars in Iranian funds.
The funds are to be transferred to Qatar before being disbursed for “further humanitarian transactions in accordance with written guidance from the U.S. government,” said Blinken, according to the Associated Press.
The fund transfer is part of a deal in which Iran has agreed to release five American prisoners: Siamak Namazi, Emad Sharghi, Morad Tahbaz (all three serving 10-year sentences) and two unnamed prisoners, all of whom the Biden administration had determined the Iranian government unjustly jailed.
The Biden administration has also agreed to release five Iranian citizens held in the United States.
Netanyahu slammed the prospective U.S.-Iran deal in August, saying, “Arrangements that do not dismantle Iran’s nuclear infrastructure do not stop its nuclear program and only provide it with funds that go to terrorist elements sponsored by Iran.”
Earlier this month, Israeli National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi warned that Israel will have no choice but to act if Iran enriches uranium above 60%.
“If Iran moves to enrich uranium above 60% and we identify it—and there is no possibility that we won’t, that the world would not recognize it—the result is that Israel would act out of necessity,” said Hanegbi. “There would be no choice.”
Such a development would indicate that “Iran is clearly pursuing a [nuclear] bomb, as a policy, and we cannot risk our fate,” added Hanegbi, without specifying how Jerusalem would respond. Earlier this year, IAEA inspectors detected “particles” of uranium enriched to 83.7% at Iran’s underground nuclear site in Fordow.
At the time, reports quoted an unnamed Israeli official as saying that Jerusalem did not consider the development a trigger for military action because Tehran had not amassed any material “at that level.”
Iran has been enriching uranium to 60% since April 2021.
Hanegbi’s comments came a week after an IAEA report showed that Tehran has continued to amass uranium enriched to near weapons-grade levels.
The report pegged the Islamic Republic’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 60% at 121.6 kilograms (268 pounds), compared to 114 kilograms (250 pounds) in May and 87.5 kilograms (192 pounds) in February.
Uranium enriched to 60% purity is a short technical step away from 90%, considered weapons-grade.