Gargash: Abu Dhabi is sending an ambassador to Tehran and wants to rebuild relations with it

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Gargash: Abu Dhabi is sending an ambassador to Tehran and wants to rebuild relations with it

IAEA chief: Iran’s increasingly sophisticated nuclear program moving ‘ahead and sideways’

NEW YORK: The Iranian nuclear program of 2022 is “very different” from the one in 2015 when the Joint Comprehensive Peace of Action was born, in the words of Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Mariano Grossi, who lamented “the loss of visibility” into the program after Tehran blocked his agency’s access to nuclear facilities.

He described Iran’s program as “very ambitious, wide, technically sophisticated,” adding that it is moving ahead “very, very fast. And not only ahead but sideways as well because it’s growing in ambition and in capacity.

“I think that everybody recognizes that, starting with the Iranians who are saying that they are making strides and amazing advances.”

The progress has made monitoring Tehran’s program an increasingly difficult task.

“It is not impossible to verify it,” Grossi said. “But it will only take a lot of work. Work of a new nature.”

The IAEA chief was speaking on the sidelines of the Tenth Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. State parties to the NPT gather every five years in New York to review the landmark 50-year-old treaty and the implementation of its provisions: preventing the spread of nuclear weapons, destroying the existing nuclear arsenal in order to eventually achieve a nuclear-weapon-free world and promoting peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The last review took place in 2015, the year the JCPOA was signed. The current summit was supposed to take place in 2020 but was delayed by the pandemic.

It is taking place at a critical juncture where Iran is moving closer to acquiring enough fissile material for a nuclear device, China and North Korea are building up their nuclear arsenals, and Russia and the US are halting bilateral nuclear talks about their own programs. With such increasing nuclear risks, some analysts have warned that the NPT regime as a whole is at stake.

At the opening of the long-delayed high-level meeting, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres gave a dire warning that “humanity is just one misunderstanding, one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation.”

“At this point, when we are discussing all these incredible crises that we are faced with, the NPT has given us a minimum common denominator that everybody has to abide by so that this thing doesn’t go crazy,” Grossi told Arab News.

“We have to be clear on who is doing what and where,” he said, adding that the IAEA is “inspired and guided in more than one way” by the NPT.

Negotiators who have been attempting to revive the JCPOA in Vienna are taking into consideration that any verification of Iran’s program would require a “degree of access commensurate with the characteristics of that program, in order to be able to verify it,” said Grossi.

In June, Iran removed IAEA equipment, including 27 cameras installed under the JCPOA, after the agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors passed a resolution criticizing Tehran for failing to explain uranium traces found at three undeclared sites.

“Of course this implies that for a long period of time, now approaching two months, we had our visibility significantly reduced on certain facilities where these cameras were located,” said Grossi.

“So the issue of the whereabouts of the material and most importantly in the centrifuge part, the fabrication facilities, which is what this is mainly about — we will have to come to terms with Iran on how to account for them, when and if they agree on reviving the JCPOA.

“When you talk about the JCPOA, what they may agree or disagree to is up to them. What I need is to verify that what they agree to is being complied with.

“They may decide to allow a discreet number of centrifuges of one type or the other. They may decide to go back to the agreement. And the understanding is they want to go back to the amounts and the quantities and the levels that were agreed to back in 2015.

“If this is done, we will have to look into more things, in the sense that there were a number of centrifuges back then. There are many more now. They have different technological capabilities as well, and there are more facilities producing these centrifuges.

“So now, if the Iranians say, ‘I have this number of centrifuges’ — well, ok, thank you very much, but during two months, there were lots of activities in terms of producing parts for more centrifuges that the IAEA is not in a position to confirm.

“So we will have to find a way to address this. Again, it’s not impossible, but it’s technically very demanding and it needs Iran’s agreement to be done.”

It is not the number of centrifuges that matters, nor the breadth and depth of a nuclear program, but the transparency with which it is conducted, said Grossi. Evoking the third pillar of the NPT, which calls for promoting the peaceful use of nuclear energy, he reiterated that there are no limitations on what countries can develop as long as they remain transparent and give IAEA inspectors “all the access they need so that every gram of material” is accounted for.

Just as the NPT’s opening remarks were being broadcast on Aug. 1, Mohammed Eslami, Iran’s atomic energy chief, said that Tehran has the ability to build a nuclear weapon “but does not plan to do so.”

Grossi declined to comment on the intention behind Eslami’s statement, but he admitted: “I don’t like people talking about nuclear weapons, to be honest. I have devoted my entire life to nuclear non-proliferation. So, talk about nuclear weapons is not something I really fancy. But I am the head of the IAEA, and I do not tell countries what they can or cannot talk about.

“For me, what is important is that all activities in Iran are under strict IAEA verification. Then they can say what they want or don’t want. It does not add anything to the value of the conversation.”

Asked whether the JCPOA needs to be rewritten in order to allow the IAEA to account for what happened when the cameras were off, Grossi said that more than the agreement itself, “there will have some understanding between the IAEA and Iran. This is a matter for us and Iran.

“Perhaps, if they so wish, the JCPOA negotiators can agree that this is an indispensable issue. I cannot tell them what to say.

“But for me to guarantee and to tell you, ‘Ok this is the number of centrifuges they have,’ I will have to have some assurances about these periods of obscurity in specific places.”

Grossi told Arab News that he hopes to see a recommitment to the NPT at the end of the review conference and “a strong support for the work of the IAEA because, at the end of the day, it continues to be the sole voice and eyes and ears of the international community that we can have on these very thorny issues.”