European sources in Paris said that the fate of the negotiations to revive the 2015 Iranian nuclear agreement would largely depend on the outcome of the meeting of the IAEA Council of Governors in Vienna this week.
The three undeclared Iranian nuclear sites, in which IAEA inspectors found traces of enriched uranium, remain the subject of debate, despite the fact that four years have passed since the issue was made public.
Since then, the IAEA reports have emphasized that Iran did not give satisfactory answers, nor did it disclose the necessary information that would enable the agency to close the matter.
While the IAEA accuses Tehran of not respecting its obligations under the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement pertaining to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, Iran blames the international agency for “politicizing” the issue and for being “biased” to Israel.
Moreover, Tehran insists on closing the issue, and makes it a condition to accept a return to the nuclear agreement.
Three points are worth observing: First, reviving the 2015 agreement will not take place imminently. This was confirmed by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who said on Monday, in a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid: “There is now actually no reason for Iran not to agree to these [European] proposals. But we have to note that this is not the case, and will not happen certainly in the near future.”
Second, the Israeli campaign continues at various levels, and has succeeded in convincing the US administration to delay returning to the 2015 agreement until after the legislative elections in Israel and the midterms in the United States.
Third, Tehran anticipated the agency’s meeting in Vienna by trying to defuse the escalation with Europe. In recent remarks, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said that Tehran was ready to cooperate with the IAEA.
There is no doubt that the IAEA governors, when making their decisions, will look at their consequences and the Iranian responses to them. According to the sources in Paris, four main options are available to agency officials:
First, the 35 governors can refrain from issuing any statement or taking any measure or action against Tehran, in order to give it an additional 3 month-opportunity to show the extent of the sincerity of its promises, and to avoid escalation or reactions that would increase the obstacles facing the IAEA inspectors.
The second option could be an exact repetition of their statement in June, in which they denounced Iran’s failure to cooperate with the agency.
However, the governors can go further with a third option, by pairing their statement with a deadline to Iran, as a warning of transferring the matter to the UN Security Council, in accordance with the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement.
Finally, the governors may seek to end Iran’s manipulation, by deciding, in the course of this week, to transfer the matter to the Council Security. This will allow the activation of the “snapback” mechanism that will enable the re-imposition of international sanctions on Iran, which were lifted at the beginning of 2016.
Iran’s responses to each of the four options can range from denouncing the agency’s decision, depriving it of access to some sites, or closing additional surveillance cameras, up to partially or completely severing relations with the IAEA.
Iran can also respond by increasing its enrichment rates, “even to 90 percent”, deploying more advanced centrifuges and raising the amounts of enriched uranium.