Iran nuclear programme: Iran allows IAEA to replace memory cards of cameras monitoring its nuclear sites

The IAEA’s inspectors have been allowed to service cameras monitoring Iranian nuclear sites and replace their memory cards, which will be kept under joint IAEA and AEOI seals in Iran. 

Created On: Sep 14, 2021 12:03 ISTModified On: Sep 14, 2021 12:34 IST

Iran has allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to service monitoring cameras at Iranian nuclear sites after talks with IAEA chief Rafael Grossi in Tehran on September 13, 2021. The talks were held between Iran and IAEA chief to ease the standoff between Iran and the West.

The UN nuclear watchdog had said earlier this week that there has been no progress on two key issues as far as Iran is concerned, first being finding uranium traces at old and undeclared nuclear sites and second being getting immediate access to monitoring equipment so the agency can continue to keep track of parts of Iran’s nuclear program as per the 2015 nuclear deal.

Mohammad Eslami, who heads the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), said that he had held constructive talks with Grossi and they have agreed on replacing memory cards of the IAEA's cameras monitoring Iranian nuclear sites.

Both AEOI and IAEA released a joint statement that read, "IAEA’s inspectors are permitted to service the identified equipment and replace their storage media which will be kept under the joint IAEA and AEOI seals in the Islamic Republic of Iran."

The existing memory cards showing Iranian activity at its main nuclear sites will be kept in Iran under a joint seal. Iran has also agreed to let the monitoring cameras be serviced. The IAEA chief Rafael Grossi is expected to return to Iran at a later date for “high-level consultations with the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran”.

Significance 

This is a major development as Iran's new hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi had been blocking Grossi's visit till now, leaving the European nations and the US no choice but to take action to censure Iran. The European states and the US were scheduled to table a motion of censure against Iran that would have been passed to the UN security council.

The censure motion could have seriously jeopardised the stalled talks between the US and Iran on the lifting of US sanctions in return for Iran complying with the 2015 nuclear deal. The talks have been on hold since Raisi’s election in June 2021. The United States and its European allies have been urging hardline President Ebrahim Raisi’s administration to return to the talks.

The latest talks hence are expected to revitalise what had previously been an intrusive inspections process. This may also bring Iran back on the negotiating table as far as its nuclear programme is concerned. 

The Iranian parliament had previously in February 2021 put pressure on the previous administration led by Hassan Rouhani to withdraw from the agreement covering the UN inspections. This move left IAEA in the dark about how Iran was developing its nuclear programme. 

UNSC Sanctions on Iran 

The UN Security Council has passed a number of resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran, following a report by the IAEA Board of Governors regarding Iran's non-compliance to its safeguards agreement and Iran's nuclear activities. The sanctions were first imposed when Iran rejected UNSC's demand that it suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in televised address on September 13 that the "Iranians are advancing unobstructed on the nuclear (weapon) project.” Iran has always maintained that its nuclear program is peaceful.

2015 Nuclear Deal 

The 2015 Iran nuclear deal was negotiated between Iran and the UNSC Permanent members- US, UK, Russia, China, France and Germany and the European Union. The landmark agreement proposed lifting of all US, EU and UN sanctions on Iran, which had almost crippled its economy, in exchange of Iran limiting its nuclear program and reducing its uranium enrichment activities.

Under the agreement, Iran also agreed to allowed international inspectors to inspect all of its nuclear facilities, supply chains and uranium mining sites. The deal was an effective arms control pact, as Iran agreed to the restrictions on its nuclear activities.

However, US President Donald Trump announced US withdrawal from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran in May 2018 saying that the agreement was, "horrible one-sided deal that should never ever have been made." He also reimposed highest level of economic santions on Iran. Trump had also added that any nation that helps Iran in its nuclear weapon programme could also be strongly sanctioned by the United States.

Iran retaliated by breaching many of the deal’s core restrictions including enriching uranium to a higher purity which makes it closer to that suitable for use in nuclear weapons. Iran admitted it was using more sophisticated centrifuges to a purity of 60%. 

Under the 2015 deal, Iran was allowed to produce enriched uranium only at an underground plant at Natanz and only with first-generation IR-1 machines, which are far less efficient. It also capped the purity to which Iran can enrich uranium at 3.67%.

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