IAEA chief says the UN nuclear watchdog has struck a deal with Iran to continue "necessary" verification and monitoring activities in Iran, but there will be less access and no more snap inspections.
The head of the UN's nuclear watchdog has said that a three-month "temporary solution" had been found to allow the agency's monitoring in Iran to continue, although its level of access will be limited.
"What we agreed is something that is viable -- it is useful to bridge this gap that we are having now, it salvages the situation now," Rafael Grossi, head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told reporters after flying back from talks in Tehran.
Iran's conservative-dominated parliament passed a law in December demanding the country suspend some inspections if the US failed to lift sanctions.
The law is due to go into effect on Tuesday.
"This law exists, this law is going to be applied, which means that the Additional Protocol, much to my regret, is going to be suspended," Grossi said, referring to one of the agreements between Iran and the IAEA under which inspections take place.
"There is less access, let's face it. But still we were able to retain the necessary degree of monitoring and verification work," he said, describing the new arrangement as "a temporary technical understanding".
Grossi did not give details of precisely which activities the IAEA would no longer be able to do but confirmed that the number of inspectors in Iran would not be reduced and that snap inspections could continue under the temporary arrangement.
The new "understanding" will however be kept under constant review and can be suspended at any time.
Grossi's visit to Tehran came amid stepped-up efforts between US President Joe Biden's administration, European powers and Iran to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal that has been on the brink of collapse since Donald Trump withdrew from it.
Grossi described Sunday's agreement as "a good result... a reasonable result" following "very, very intensive consultations" with Iranian officials.
He was speaking after two days of meetings in the Iranian capital during which he met Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the head of the Iran Atomic Energy Organisation, Ali Akbar Salehi.
Grossi said his hope in going to Tehran was "to stabilise a situation which was very unstable".
"I think this technical understanding does it so that other political discussions at other levels can take place, and most importantly we can avoid a situation in which we would have been, in practical terms, flying blind," he added.
Iran's Foreign Minister Zarif, before meeting Grossi, signalled that the Islamic republic wants to avoid an " impasse", but also warned it could step further away from its commitments if Washington does not lift the sanctions.
"Iran and the IAEA held fruitful discussions based on mutual respect, the result of which will be released this evening," Tehran's ambassador to the UN agency Kazem Gharibabadi wrote on Twitter.
Iran and the IAEA held fruitful discussions based on mutual respect, the result of which will be released this evening. pic.twitter.com/phLZcnR4ue— Gharibabadi (@Gharibabadi) February 21, 2021
Iran's conservative-dominated parliament months ago demanded that, if the US does not lift sanctions by this Sunday, Iran suspend some IAEA inspections from Tuesday.
But Iran has stressed it will not cease working with the IAEA or expel its inspectors.
Zarif told Iran's Press TV on Sunday he would talk to Grossi about implementing Iran's law while making sure "not to create an impasse, so that he carries out the obligations to show that Iran's nuclear programme remains peaceful ".
Iran's deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi said late Saturday the "IAEA's inspection capability will be reduced by about 20-30 percent after the implementation of the parliament's law".
Iran has notified the UN body it will suspend "voluntary transparency measures" – notably inspection visits to non-nuclear sites, including military sites suspected of nuclear-related activity – if the US fails to lift the sanctions Trump reimposed in 2018.
Zarif said the law mandates the government to "not provide the tapes" of cameras at sites to the IAEA, adding that technical details would be discussed in Tehran.
"We are not violating the JCPOA, we are implementing remedial measures foreseen in the JCPOA itself," Zarif insisted, referring to the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.
"Once everybody implements their part and their obligations, then there will be talks, and those talks will not be about changing or adding to the agreement."
'Still in partial phase'
Biden has committed to rejoining talks on Tehran's nuclear programme, in a shift away from Trump's policy of "maximum pressure" towards the Islamic republic.
Tehran has repeatedly said it is ready to return to its nuclear commitments, on the condition Washington makes the first move by lifting the sanctions that have heaped economic pain on Iran.
Zarif said that, from Iran's point of view, "nothing has changed", as the Biden administration had so far followed the same Iran policy as his predecessor.
Iran's top diplomat warned that if US sanctions are not lifted, Iran will continue scaling back its commitments under the deal it agreed in 2015 with the five UN Security Council permanent members and Germany.
The stockpile of "enriched uranium will increase", he said, stressing that Tehran has the right within the deal to stop observing commitments "totally or partially" if the other parties fail to honour theirs.
"We are still in the partial phase," Zarif said. "We can be total."
The European Union's political director, Enrique Mora, on Thursday proposed via Twitter an "informal meeting" involving Iran – and Washington accepted in principle.
Araghchi said Saturday that "we are reviewing (this) proposal" and Iran was discussing the issue with "friends and allies such as China and Russia".
"But, principally, we believe that America's return to the JCPOA and lifting sanctions, and acting on its commitments, do not require negotiations."
Zarif also stressed that "there won't be any negotiations, period. Not before or after" the US returns to the deal.