Iran grants UN nuclear watchdog access to two key sites

Iran has finally agreed to grant the UN nuclear watchdog access to two key sites that the US and Israeli intelligence agencies suspect once secretly hosted nuclear material or activities, ending a months-long standoff over the issue.

Wednesday’s breakthrough in the dispute over the sites near Karaj and Isfahan was announced in a joint statement by Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency during a visit to Tehran by the agency’s director general, Rafael Grossi.

The move will shore up European support for the nuclear deal signed in 2015, as untrammelled UN access to sites is arguably the cornerstone of the agreement.

The European signatories, especially France, put direct pressure on Iran to allow the IAEA access immediately before Grossi’s visit.

The US has been running an unsuccessful attempt at the UN to effectively scrap the agreement by reimposing all UN sanctions on Iran, but on Tuesday Washington was told by this month’s security council president, Indonesia, that it could not raise its plans to reimpose all UN sanctions again this month since there was no support for the move. The US withdrew from the deal in 2018.

In their joint statement, Iran and the IAEA said: “Iran is voluntarily providing the IAEA with access to the two locations specified by the IAEA.” Iran said a timetable for accessing the sites had been agreed, without giving any further details on the kind of verification that would be allowed.

“This is a very important agreement that allows us to continue our inspection work as it should be,” Grossi told reporters on his return to Vienna, where the IAEA is based. He said dates for the inspections of the two sites had been agreed, but would not say when exactly they would be, other than “very, very soon”.

The agreement came after Grossi gave assurances to Iranian leaders in Tehran that on the basis of current information he did not have any further concerns or requests about other sites.

The IAEA concerns about the two sites first raised in June appear to stem from alleged activities in the early 2000s before the nuclear deal was signed.

Iran argued the IAEA mandate was to ensure the terms of the 2015 deal were being implemented, and not to make a general review of the Iran nuclear programme prior to then. The inclusion of the word “voluntary” in the IAEA statement is a concession to Iran, since the IAEA has previously said Iran had an obligation to provide access.

“Iran’s relations with the agency are at a very good stage,” Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, said in a statement on his official website shortly after the announcement. Grossi’s visit “showed the world that Iran is ready as ever to work closely with the agency in the framework of safeguards,” he added.

John Bolton, a former national security adviser to Donald Trump, on Wednesday accused the US president of inadvertently reviving diplomatic support for the nuclear deal by trying to interfere and break it up. The US is concerned that the deal allows a UN embargo on sales of conventional arms to Iran to be lifted in October. Bolton said the US had to be either inside or outside the nuclear deal.