Why is Iran cooperating with the IAEA?
Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA comes after a visit by IAEA chief Rafael Grossi’s trip to Tehran, where he got an assurance of a probe into uranium particles found at undeclared sites. Grossi wrapped up a two-day trip to Iran on March 4, where he met the top leadership including President Ebrahim Raisi. Post his visit, he told reporters that Iran has agreed to restore key monitoring activities, which relates to cameras that were removed from several nuclear sites in June 2022. Grossi also said that Tehran has agreed to a “50% increase in inspections.”
Why has Iran changed its mind?
Tehran may be keen to ratchet down tensions after Bloomberg reported on February 20 that Iran had enriched uranium up to 84%, which is just short of the 90% required to make a nuclear bomb. But Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for Iran’s civilian nuclear program, claimed the 84% was a “momentary side-effect of trying to reach a finished purity of 60%.” Regardless this has raised tensions with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holding a cabinet meeting on February 23 where steps for military action against Iran were believed to have been discussed. It should be noted that Israel has bombed Iraq and Syria’s nuclear reactors in the past.
What happens now?
Grossi’s trip to Iran will be followed by the IAEA Board of Governors meeting where he will present his findings and the 35-nation body will decide if Iran should be formally censured. In November last year, the board censured Iran with a resolution condemning it for stonewalling investigations into its nuclear programme. Iran had responded, warning it would enrich its uranium capacity to 60%. It is not clear what Iran would do this time if it was censured but foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian stated in a press conference that while Tehran welcomed diplomacy it was “ready to implement Plan B” if the US “opts to take a different path.” The foreign minister did not spell out what Plan B was.
Will this happen?
Not likely. While no one expects immediate negotiations for the JCPOA to begin there is a cautious air of optimism surrounding Iran right now. Iran’s currency, the rial, has moved from 600,000 to 540,000 to the dollar, over the past three days, and pundits believe Grossi’s visit along with Abdollahian’s recent visit to Geneva when he addressed the 52nd session of the UN Human Rights Council on February 27 may be some of the reasons. Abdollahian also met many of his western counterparts on the sidelines of the event. Having said this, it remains to be seen how much the “Russia factor” will be taken into account. Washington and Britain, France and Germany are furious with the ongoing Iran-Russia arms deals and there is a strong Republican lobby that is looking to punish President Biden for being “weak” on Iran. The Republicans are indirectly aided by Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Democratic chairman Bob Menendez who wants all talks on the JCPOA to end.