IAEA, Iran Discuss Safeguards

June 2024
By Kelsey Davenport

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) traveled to Iran to discuss measures to enhance monitoring of Tehran’s nuclear program and a long-standing agency investigation into undeclared Iranian nuclear activities, but it is unclear if the trip will lead to any new cooperation.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, (L) meets Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian in Tehran on May 6 to discuss enhancing the monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program. Amirabdollahian’s death in a helicopter crash with President Ebrahim Raisi on May 19 further delayed engagement  between Tehran and the agency. (Photo by Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Anadolu via Getty Images)

IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi did not announce any specific measures that Iran agreed to take, but said that Tehran showed a willingness to engage in a serious dialogue and that the two sides were discussing specific, technical steps. The deaths of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian in a helicopter crash on May 19 further delayed engagement between Iran and the agency.

Grossi said he discussed the implementation of a joint statement of the agency and Iran in March 2023. It includes a commitment by Iran to expand voluntarily IAEA monitoring of its nuclear program and cooperate with the agency’s investigation into the presence of uranium detected at three undeclared locations. (See ACT, April 2023.)

After the March 2023 joint statement was concluded, Iran provided the IAEA with information about one of the sites where the agency was investigating the presence of undeclared uranium and allowed the agency to reinstall a limited number of surveillance cameras. But progress stalled by mid-2023.

While in Iran, Grossi tweeted that he proposed measures “for the revitalization” of the March 2023 agreement, which is “still valid.” Mohammad Eslami, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, concurred that the joint statement is a “good basis of interaction.”

Returning from Iran on May 7, Grossi told reporters that he expects to have “some concrete results soon” and that the “present state is completely unsatisfactory.”

Grossi said that it would be good to report progress ahead of the June meeting of the agency’s Board of Governors. Although there was no agreed timetable for action, he said that Amirabdolliahan had said Tehran was “ready to engage in very concrete measures.”

In the past, Iran has pledged to take action ahead of IAEA board meetings to avoid censure. If Tehran does not follow through ahead of the June meeting, it may be difficult to determine if the delay is just more stalling or if the deaths of Raisi and Amirabdollahian disrupted the agency’s engagement with Iran.

During the most recent board meeting, in March, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom said they would pursue action against Iran in June, including reporting the country to the UN Security Council, if Tehran does not provide “decisive and substantive progress” on the investigation into the presence of uranium at the two undeclared locations where the IAEA says that it still does not have sufficient information. (See ACT, April 2024.)

Grossi also suggested that his patience is waning and that he might be forced to act if Iran does not cooperate. In a May 14 interview with The Guardian, he said that, “without meaningful engagement” and being able “to see more in Iran,” the moment may come when he could not say that all of Iran’s nuclear materials are for peaceful purposes. That would be a “critical juncture” because “the international community would have to grapple with the reality that we don’t know what Iran may or may not have,” he said.

Grossi also criticized the “loose talk about nuclear weapons” in Iran and said that language “should stop.”

In a May 9 interview with Al Jazeera Mubasher, Kamal Kharrazi, an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader and a former foreign minister, said Iran has not made the decision to build nuclear weapons “but should Iran’s existence be threatened, there will be no choice but to change our military doctrine.” He specifically noted that a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities “could lead to a change in Iran’s nuclear doctrine.” Kharrazi made similar comments on May 5.

In a May 9 press briefing, U.S. State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller called Kharrazi’s comments “irresponsible” and said the “United States will ensure one way or another that Iran will never have a nuclear weapon.