The Islamic Republic of Iran has expelled approximately one third of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors from its nuclear facilities, the United Nations’ agency director, Rafael Grossi, said on Saturday in a statement.
In response to the announcement, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately issued a statement saying, “Israel is not surprised by Iran’s actions, which prove that it is violating all its commitments.” In a rare move, the statement was issued on the Sabbath, which this weekend was also the first day of the Rosh Hashana holiday.
Gross said that Iran had withdrawn the designation of “several experienced Agency inspectors assigned to conduct verification activities in Iran under the NPT Safeguards Agreement,” noting the move followed a similar, previous recent withdrawal of the designation of “another experienced Agency inspector” for Iran.
“These inspectors are among the most experienced Agency experts with unique knowledge in enrichment technology. They have conducted essential verification work at the enrichment facilities in Iran which are under Agency safeguards,” Grossi noted.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry said the decision came in response to what it called an attempt by the United States, Britain, France, and Germany to misuse the IAEA “for their own political purposes.”
The four nations had called on Tehran in a joint statement at last week’s IAEA Board of Governors’ meeting in Vienna to cooperate immediately with the IAEA, including providing an explanation for uranium traces found at three undeclared sites.
On Thursday, Britain, France, and Germany – known as the “E3” — pledged to maintain sanctions against Iran over its ongoing nuclear and ballistic missile programs, which were set to expire in October, as a “direct response to Iran’s consistent and severe non-compliance” with the defunct JCPOA nuclear deal signed in 2015 between Iran and world powers.
The sanctions ban Iran from developing ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads, as well as barring anyone from buying, selling, or transferring drones and missiles to and from Iran.
Russia has been using Iranian kamikaze drones in its war against Ukraine; North Korea has been exchanging ballistic missile technology with Tehran.
All the inspectors whose designations were removed were French and German members of the IAEA inspection team, which had already been stripped of US and British members.
“With today’s decision, Iran has effectively removed about one third of the core group of the Agency’s most experienced inspectors designated for Iran. This measure, while formally permitted by the NPT Safeguards Agreement, has been exercised by Iran in a manner that affects in a direct and severe way the ability of the IAEA to conduct effectively its inspections in Iran.”
The IAEA director “strongly condemned” the “disproportionate and unprecedented unilateral measure,” calling it a “profoundly regrettable decision by Iran” that he said was “another step in the wrong direction” that “constitutes an unnecessary blow to an already strained relationship between the IAEA and Iran in the implementation of the NPT Safeguards Agreement.”
Grossi noted that the decision makes it impossible for the IAEA to “discharge effectively its verification mandate in Iran” and to” provide credible assurances that nuclear material and activities in Iran are for peaceful purposes.”
Grossi called on the Iranian government to “reconsider its decision” and to “return to a path of cooperation with the agency.”