The International Atomic Energy Agency’s monitoring of Iranian nuclear facilities is no longer “intact,” according to IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi.
In an interview with NBC News that appeared on Saturday, Grossi said that Tehran’s refusal to allow inspectors to service surveillance equipment at a key nuclear site in Karaj, just northwest of Tehran, had resulted in a gap in monitoring at the facility.
The facility in question is the Iran Centrifuge Technology Company, or TESA, a main manufacturing center for the uranium enrichment centrifuges used at the nuclear facilities in Fordow and Natanz. The site was damaged in June by what Iran has called an act of Israeli sabotage.
Grossi—who was in Washington, D.C., last week, where he met with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken—told NBC that Iran claims that its ongoing investigation into the attack is the reason for the current ban on IAEA access.
In February, Grossi traveled to Iran to try to stave off implementation of Iranian legislation that, among other things, sought to curtail inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites and the collection of surveillance-camera footage.
The IAEA director managed to reach a “stopgap” arrangement that would allow IAEA cameras to keep running, so that in the event of a return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—the 2015 nuclear deal from which the Trump administration withdrew in 2018—signatories would be able to “piece together what had occurred during the period when [the deal] lapsed,” according to NBC.
The sixth round of negotiations in Vienna over a possible return to the JCPOA wrapped up in June, and no date has yet been set for a seventh round of talks.
Pointing to a lack of communication with the new government in Tehran, headed by President Ebrahim Raisi, Grossi told NBC had never even spoken to the Islamic Republic’s new foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. (Earlier this month, Abdollahian called on the United States to unfreeze “at least” $10 billion in frozen Iranian funds to prove it was serious about rejoining the JCPOA.)
“I hope to be able to have the opportunity to meet with [Amir-Abdollahian] soon, because it’s very important,” said Grossi. “So when there is a problem, when there is misunderstanding, when there is a disagreement, we can talk about it. I used to have it before, and I would assume it that I would be the normal thing,” he added.
Meanwhile, Grossi said, though the inability to maintain the monitoring equipment in Karaj “hasn’t paralyzed what we are doing there,” the “damage has been done, with a potential of us not being able to reconstruct the picture, the jigsaw puzzle.”
Grossi also told NBC that though he has “no indication” that Iran is racing for a nuclear bomb, one should use North Korea, which kicked out IAEA inspectors in 2009 and now is estimated to have dozens of nuclear warheads, as a cautionary tale.
“The case of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] should remind us of what may happen if diplomatic efforts go wrong,” he said. “It’s a clear example; it’s an indication; it’s a beacon. If diplomacy fails, you may be confronted with a situation that would have enormous political impact in the Middle East and beyond.”