UN nuclear watchdog presses Iran for access to suspect sites

UN nuclear watchdog presses Iran for access to suspect sites...
msn.com 19/06/2020 News

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By Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor
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The UN nuclear watchdog’s 35-nation board of governors has called on Iran to stop denying the agency access to two suspected former sites and to cooperate fully with it.
The endorsement of a resolution that was tabled by the European powers is the International Atomic Energy Authority’s first such criticism of Iran in eight years, and comes as the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the UK meet in Berlin on Friday to discuss the nuclear issue.
The IAEA’s director general, Rafael Grossi, has repeatedly reported denials of access to the two sites, and the US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has accused Iran of unprecedented obstruction.
China, often a backmarker on Iran nuclear issues, joined Iran’s criticism of the resolution, suggesting China’s growing conflict with the west is now spilling into the Iran nuclear arena.
In the runup to Friday’s meeting, the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, stressed he did not want to see Europe abandon the 2015 nuclear deal altogether. France, Germany and the UK – the “E3” – in theory still have the option of putting the issue of Iranian noncompliance further into the nuclear deal’s formal dispute mechanism, a process that could lead to the deal unravelling.
The E3 have so far said they do not wish to escalate the issue by referring it to the UN security council.
Iran has already taken successive steps away from the deal, but has allowed the inspections process to continue, except at the two contested sites. It claims the request for access to the two small-scale research sites breaches IAEA statutes, and stems from fake evidence provided by Israeli espionage. The IAEA says it believes it has seen evidence of efforts to clean up the sites, and this might relate to secret activities before the nuclear deal was agreed.
In a statement ahead of the Berlin meeting, the E3 said talks will focus on the importance of finding a diplomatic solution to de-escalate tensions, holding Iran to account for its destabilising regional activity, and “keeping the door open for Iran to find a peaceful way forward”.
The US is also putting pressure on the E3 not to lift the UN embargo on arms sales to Iran. The embargo is due to expire in the autumn as part of the original nuclear deal, but the US has said it is not conceivable that the embargo should be lifted at the UN security council at a time when Iran is not in compliance with the deal and poses such a threat to regional security. The US itself pulled out of the deal in 2018, and privately recognises there is little or no chance Iran will renegotiate the deal until after the US presidential election in November.
The E3 have not yet come to a collective view on the arms embargo, but the former UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has said he thinks arms sales to Iran can be allowed.
On the issue of inspections, the IAEA director general has been complaining for weeks that its inspectors have been denied access to two sites. He said this was adversely affecting the ability of the agency to clarify and resolve its outstanding questions. He said the lack of cooperation meant “the agency is not able to provide credible assurance of the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities at these locations in Iran”.
The issue has dominated discussions at the board meeting. The Saudi Arabian ambassador to the IAEA, Prince Khalid bin Sultan, said: “For more than four months, Iran has continued to provide irrational justifications in its refusal for the IAEA’s request to allow two inspectors to verify any undeclared nuclear material and activities at the sites under its safeguards agreement and additional protocol with the IAEA.
“This reinforces doubts about Iran’s nuclear programme intentions and what it is seeking to reach,” he said.
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