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International nuclear watchdogs met on Monday to discuss a standoff with Iran that has thrown efforts to revive a landmark deal to curb the country’s nuclear program into deeper disarray.
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s investigation into Iran’s past nuclear activities has become the focus of talks to revive the 2015 deal, where success could unleash a surge in Iranian oil exports. Diplomats will discuss the issue this week in the Austrian capital, where the agency’s 35-member governing board meets.
“The information gap is getting wider,” IAEA director-general Rafael Mariano Grossi told a news conference in Vienna, adding that he still expected Iran to cooperate in its investigation.
Iran is demanding an end to an IAEA investigation into proposals for nuclear activities at undeclared sites before it begins dismantling a uranium enrichment program that is now just below weapons-grade levels. The US and other world powers have offered sanctions relief if the Islamic Republic curbs its nuclear fuel production, but insist it is up to the IAEA to declare an end to the investigation.
The governments of France, Germany and the United Kingdom issued a joint statement on Saturday to address the Islamic Republic’s latest demands.
“In light of Iran’s failure to put the deal on the table, we will consult with our international partners on how best to address Iran’s continued nuclear escalation,” the European governments said.
“There is really no reason now for Iran not to agree to these proposals,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Monday. “But we have to recognize that that’s not happening and so it’s certainly not going to happen anytime soon, even though it looked like it was going to happen for a while.”
As European hopes fade for an immediate return to the deal, Iran’s leadership is focusing on the region. President Ebrahim Raisi is expected to meet his Chinese and Russian counterparts at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization convened on Thursday in Uzbekistan.
Even if Iran and the world power manage to clear the final hurdles to reviving the deal, the IAEA’s Grossi warned that the time it will take for its inspectors to verify compliance has increased.
“The reality is that it will be extremely difficult and we will have to work very hard and Iran will have to be very transparent,” he said. “There’s a lot of homework.”
The Sticky Issues Holding Up a New Iran Nuclear Deal: QuickTake
Talks to curb Tehran’s nuclear activities in return for easing sanctions, including those on oil exports, have been on a knife’s edge since European negotiators proposed a 25-page final draft deal after nearly 18 months of negotiations.
After optimistic early signs that a return to the JCPOA could be days away, the sides have now resigned themselves to more delays, stalling talks and preventing Iran from increasing crude sales.
The nuclear deal collapsed when then-President Donald Trump pulled the US out in 2018 and reimposed sanctions. In response, Iranian officials expanded the country’s nuclear program.
Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid welcomed the impasse after meeting with German government leaders on Monday in Berlin. “Returning to the nuclear deal, under the current circumstances, would be a critical mistake,” he said, adding that doing so would spark an arms race in the Middle East.
Tehran denies it is seeking to build nuclear warheads, but worries it may develop the technology to do so prompted years of diplomacy that led to the deal with world powers.
(Adds the German chancellor in the seventh, the Israeli prime minister in the penultimate paragraph.)
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