AP interview: UN nuclear chief says Iran’s vision is blurred
In an extensive interview with the Associated Press, Rafael Mariano Grossi said he wanted to tell Iran that “there was no way to avoid” its International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors if the Islamic Republic wanted to be “a country respected in the community of nations.”
“We have to work together,” Grossi said from a luxury hotel in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, after visiting the country’s first nuclear power plant. “They have to work together. I will make sure they understand that they will have a partner in us.”
Grossi’s insistence that the IAEA, based in Vienna, remained an “auditor” of the world came when negotiations failed in Vienna to reactivate the torn nuclear deal in Tehran. Hours earlier, the head of Iran’s civilian nuclear program insisted that his country would refuse access to the agency to a sensitive centrifuge assembly plant.
“If the international community through us, through the IAEA, doesn’t see clearly how many centrifuges or what capacity they can have … what you have is a very blurry picture,” Grossi said. “It will give you the illusion of the real image. But not the real image. That’s why it’s so important.”
Grossi dismissed as “simply absurd” an Iranian allegation that the saboteurs used IAEA cameras in the attack on the site of the Karaj centrifuge. Tehran has offered no evidence to support the claim, although it is another sign of friction between inspectors and Iran.
Since the collapse of the nuclear deal, Tehran has begun enriching uranium to 60% purity, a brief technical step from 90% weapons quality levels. The agreement limited enrichment to 3.67%, enough to be used in a power plant. The nation’s enriched uranium existence is growing far beyond the reach of the 2015 agreement, which saw Tehran agree to limit its nuclear program in exchange for lifting economic sanctions. It also spins increasingly advanced centrifuges, also banned by the agreement.
Although he stressed that he was not involved in the ongoing political negotiations in Vienna, Grossi acknowledged the progress made by Iran since the collapse of the agreement meant that there should be changes to the original agreement. .
“The reality is that we are facing a very different Iran,” he said. “2022 is so different from 2015 that adjustments will have to be made that take these new realities into account so that our inspectors can inspect everything that countries agree on the political table.”
And while Iran insists its program is peaceful, US intelligence agencies and the IAEA have said that Iran led a nuclear weapons program organized until 2003.
“There is no country other than nuclear weapons manufacturers that reaches these high levels of uranium enrichment,” Grossi said of Iran. “I have said many times that this does not mean that Iran has a nuclear weapon. But it does mean that this level of enrichment requires an intense verification effort.”
Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Grossi’s statements.
In Vienna, however, anxiety is growing among European nations at the negotiating table. The United States has been on the sidelines of direct talks since leaving the deal.
“Without rapid progress, in light of Iran’s rapid advancement of its nuclear program, the deal will soon become an empty shell,” they warned in a statement overnight.
Apparently responding to the criticism, Iranian negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani wrote on Twitter: “Some actors persist in their guilt habit, rather than real diplomacy.”
But Iranian negotiators who have entered talks for the first time in months under new hardline chairman Ebrahim Raisi have taken maximalist positions. Bagheri Kani himself described six previous rounds of negotiations with a team of former President Hassan Rouhani as a simple “draft”.
Asked about the difference between the two administrations, Grossi said “the change is palpable.”
“The president himself and the people around him have been saying very clearly that they have opinions on the program,” he said. “They have strong views on the interactions Iran has had” with both the IAEA and the parties to the nuclear deal.
He also described co-operation with the Raisi administration as “slower than expected”.
“We were able to start this relationship pretty late, I would say,” Grossi said.
Meanwhile, satellite photos obtained by the AP show construction underway on the mountain south of Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, twice the target of suspected Israeli attacks. Another onshore facility is being built at Iran’s underground ford facility, which has also begun uranium enrichment amid talks in Vienna challenging the nuclear deal.
Grossi said Iran has informed the IAEA of ongoing construction and its inspectors are “following” progress on the sites.
At the regional level, Saudi Arabia has begun exploring nuclear power. Unlike the United Arab Emirates, which has a strict agreement with the United States to ensure that it does not enrich its own uranium, Saudi Arabia says it wants a centrifuge program. This poses a risk of nuclear proliferation, as the kingdom has threatened to rush to find a nuclear weapon if Iran obtains one. Grossi described the talks between Riyadh and the IAEA as “very positive”.
And in Israel, which was long believed to be a nuclear-weapon state, a massive construction project continues at its secret nuclear reactor near Dimona, which is not subject to IAEA surveillance. Iran often points to Israel’s arms program as a double international standard given the scrutiny of Tehran’s civilian program.
When asked about Israel, Grossi said, “I think the international community would like all countries to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and put all facilities under IAEA safeguards.” .
He stressed the importance of ensuring that IAEA inspectors have unlimited capacity to monitor and access Iran’s rapidly accelerating nuclear program.
“The problem is that the more time passes and the ability to record what is happening is lost, then the moment that capacity is restored, the inspectors come back and start assembling the puzzle again,” he said. “There may be gaps. And those gaps are not a good thing to have.”
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