The international probe into Iran’s atomic activities may go on for years, according to the official whose efforts to ensure the country doesn’t develop a nuclear weapon are inextricably linked with diplomacy to calm spiraling tensions in the Gulf.
International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said that even if Tehran manages to clarify the source of man-made uranium particles detected last year at several undeclared locations, the work of his inspections team won’t be finished.
“Additional information may come up,” Grossi, 60, said in an interview Tuesday. “In non-proliferation, there is no final, definite clean bill of health.”
Grossi will need to deploy the skills he developed as an Argentine diplomat and honed during earlier IAEA stints investigating Iran’s past. The agency is pressing on with its work just as Iran and world powers approach a crucial juncture in their attempts to resuscitate a five-year-old accord that was supposed to cap Tehran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.
While former President Donald Trump’s attempt to kill the deal failed, the US exit in 2018 left the agreement badly hobbled. The administrations of Joe Biden and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani say they want Washington to return to the pact but each is insisting the other side act first.
“These next few months are going to be complex,” Grossi said. “They need to see eye-to-eye at a higher political level.”
The IAEA and Iran agreed last week to talks in April where technical experts will probe how decades-old uranium particles wound up at a warehouse in Tehran, as well as other locations first flagged by Israeli spies. Iran was previously subject to a 12-year IAEA investigation that only ended after the 2015 deal capped the enrichment needed to produce warheads.
Iran assented to the latest round of investigations after IAEA inspectors made it clear that “this isn’t going to disappear” and that stonewalling “may have a deleterious effect,” Grossi said.
Short of a new compromise, tensions between Iran, the US and its Arab Gulf allies will surge over the nuclear issue. Recent flashpoints include attacks on shipping and strikes on Saudi oil facilities by Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen.
The original negotiators of the 2015 pact repeatedly warned that war, along with major disruptions to the global economy, was the only alternative to a negotiated settlement.
Safeguarding nuclear material in Iran “is a constant process,” said Grossi, while insisting that inspections shouldn’t become a pawn in global politics. “Please don’t put the IAEA into the tradeables. Inspection work is a prerequisite.”