VIENNA (Dispatches) — Iran and the UN’s nuclear agency agreed Monday to a one-month extension to a deal on surveillance cameras at Tehran’s atomic sites, buying more time for ongoing negotiations in Vienna to bring the U.S. to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal.
The last-minute discussions further underscored the narrowing window for the U.S. to remove its sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
Speaking at a news conference Monday in Vienna, IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi told journalists that the decision came after a discussion with Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.
“I’d want to stress this is not ideal,” Grossi said. “This is like an emergency device that we came up with in order for us to continue having these monitoring activities.”
Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran’s representative to the IAEA, acknowledged the deal at the same time on Twitter. He said the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran would keep the material already recorded by the IAEA cameras.
“We recommend the negotiating countries to seize the extra opportunity provided by Iran in good faith for the complete lifting of sanctions in a practical and verifiable manner,” Gharibabadi wrote.
Under a confidential agreement called an “Additional Protocol” with Iran, the IAEA collects and analyzes images from a series of surveillance cameras installed at Iranian nuclear sites.
Iran’s parliament in December approved a bill that would suspend part of UN inspections of its nuclear facilities if European signatories did not provide relief from oil and banking sanctions by February.
The IAEA then struck a three-month deal with Iran in February to have it hold the surveillance images, with Tehran threatening to delete them afterward if no deal had been reached.
Salehi said Monday that Tehran had stockpiled 5 tons of uranium enriched up to 5% purity, 90 kilograms (198 pounds) enriched up to 20% and 2.5 kilograms (5.5 pounds) up to 60%.
Negotiations continue in Vienna to see if the U.S. would re-enter the deal.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry said Monday an agreement is within reach on the removal sanctions on Tehran, but what remains is for the U.S. to make a “political decision” and change course on the “failed legacy” of the former Trump regime.
With a fifth round of Vienna talks coming up within days to negotiate the U.S. return to the 2015 nuclear deal, Secretary of State Antony Blinken poured cold water on the prospects of a breakthrough on Sunday, demanding that Iran “come back into compliance on the nuclear side”.
But Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh sounded reservedly upbeat Monday, saying that only a few issues remained to be worked out to reach an agreement.
“It is quite clear that we have made significant progress and we think an understanding is within reach. What remains is significant. They must be addressed and followed up,” he told a weekly virtual news conference in Tehran.
Iran is adamant that the U.S. make the first move to undo its past wrongs and lift all its sanctions imposed by former president Donald Trump in one go because it was the side which reneged on its commitments and abandoned the nuclear deal in 2018.
“On the sectoral, economic and key issues, an agreement has been reached. The parentheses in the text of the removal of the sanctions have been largely erased and a few issues remain,” Khatibzadeh said.
“There are some issues remaining with regard to the executive arrangements including verification, but they have also had good progress,” he added.
Sectoral sanctions, referred to as “surgical or smart” sanctions, are applied against very focused targets such as a country’s energy, mining, and defense sectors to purportedly reduce subsequent collateral economic damage. They are the opposite of secondary sanctions that broaden the scope of sanctions by applying more restrictions. Trump extended secondary sanctions to those who deal with companies involved in business with Iran.
The Vienna talks are held between Iran and the remaining signatories to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – China, Russia, France, Germany and Britain. The U.S. is not a party to the negotiations, but it has sent a delegation to the Austrian capital to keep abreast of its results.
Khatibzadeh said, “An agreement in Vienna requires a political decision in Washington.”
“Instead of using Vienna’s time and energy to defend Trump’s failed legacy, the United States should change course and return to its commitments under the JCPOA and Resolution 2231,” he said, referring to the UN Security Council resolution which endorses the nuclear deal.
“In that case, the path forward will not be long.”
The administration of President Joe Biden is averse to lifting the sanctions, which has protracted the negotiations despite optimism voiced by different parties.
On Sunday, Blinken said the negotiating sides have “actually made progress”, but then put the onus on Iran to comply with the JCPOA.
Patience is already running thin in Iran, where the parliament has mandated the government to push forth with scaling down the country’s compliance with the JCPOA if the U.S. continues to drag feet on removing the sanctions.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif said Monday the U.S. has a “legal and moral obligation” to remove sanctions on Tehran, turning the tables on Washington.
“Lifting Trump’s sanctions, Secretary Blinken, is a legal and moral obligation. Not negotiating leverage,” Zarif tweeted in a post addressed to the top U.S. diplomat.
On Sunday, Blinken sought to put the ball in Iran’s court, saying the United States had not seen yet whether Iran would move to comply with its nuclear commitments in order to have the sanctions removed.
“Iran, I think, knows what it needs to do to come back into compliance on the nuclear side, and what we haven’t yet seen is whether Iran is ready and willing to make a decision to do what it has to do. That’s the test and we don’t yet have an answer,” Blinken told ABC News.
In his Monday posts, Zarif dismissed Blinken’s political grandstanding, saying it “didn’t work for Trump—won’t work for you”.
“Release the Iranian people’s billions of dollars held hostage abroad due to US bullying,” he said.
“Trump’s legacy is past its expiration date. Drop it, president of the United States.”
Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi also tweeted that he spent four hours before the parliament’s Foreign Policy and National Security Commission to brief the MPs on the Vienna talks.
“Very tough. But useful,” he wrote of the meeting. The bottom line is, he said, “having left the JCPOA, the U.S. must first provide verifiable sanctions lifting. Iran will then resume full implementation”.
“Is the U.S. ready?” he added.