Iran, IAEA Agree on Probe Deadline for Uranium Particles Found at Undeclared Nuclear Sites

Iran and the U.N. nuclear watchdog on Saturday agreed to a three-month process that the watchdog hopes will resolve the long-stalled issue of Iran obfuscating its independent safeguard probes, after uranium particles were found several years ago at apparently old but undeclared sites in the country.

The issue is seen as one of the obstacles to any potential revival of the Iran nuclear deal, which limits Iran’s uranium enrichment because the byproducts can be used to make the core of a nuclear bomb.

The prospect of securing a deal is currently in question as any agreement will soon be redundant. Observers estimate that based on Iran’s known nuclear activities, the country will soon have enough material to fuel a nuclear bomb if the ruling regime decides it wants one.

Meanwhile in parallel to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA’s) investigations, 11 months after indirect talks between Iran and the United States on salvaging the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) deal began in Vienna, negotiators are trying to settle the remaining thorny issues within days as the time marking the death of the deal approaches.

One remaining issue, diplomats say, has been Iran’s “red line” demand to drop the IAEA’s investigation into the uranium particles found at three undeclared sites, which suggest that Iran had nuclear material there that it did not declare to the agency.

The agency has long said Iran has not given satisfactory answers on those issues. On Saturday, it announced a plan for a series of exchanges, after which IAEA chief Rafael Grossi “will aim to report his conclusion by the June 2022 [IAEA] Board of Governors” meeting, which begins on June 6.

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran will need to provide to the IAEA written explanations “including related supporting documents to the questions raised by the IAEA which have not been addressed by Iran on the issues related to three locations” by March 20, a joint statement said.

The plan could see an agreement to revive the 2015 deal, though Grossi emphasized that his conclusion would not necessarily be positive.

“It would be difficult to imagine you can have a cooperative relationship [like JCPOA] as if nothing had happened if the clarification of very important safeguards issues were to fail,” Grossi said in a news conference when asked what the effect on reviving the deal would be if the issues were not closed.

‘No Longer Outstanding’

Meanwhile, Iran’s JCPOA negotiations are also demanding the lifting of a “foreign terrorist organization” designation for its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, as well as guarantees that the United States cannot renege on the deal again in the future.

Grossi has suggested that the presentation of his conclusion happen before JCPOA’s potential “Re-implementation Day.”

Grossi was speaking after a trip to Tehran in which he met Iran’s nuclear chief Mohammad Eslami and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian.

While the plan provides a roadmap for resolving the agency’s open questions about the three sites, the agency removed a fourth open issue from its list: the possible presence in the past of a uranium metal disc at another undeclared location.

Reuters contributed to this report.