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Iran and IAEA reach deal on Karaj
Iran said the UN atomic watchdog could replace cameras at the centrifuge workshop damaged in a sabotage attack, amid signs talks on trying to revive nuclear deal may be moving a bit forward
Averting a possible censure resolution as early as next week, Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Wednesday (Dec. 15) that they had reached agreement on the IAEA restoring cameras at the Karaj centrifuge workshop damaged in a suspected Israeli sabotage attack in June.
The apparent breakthrough on restoring IAEA surveillance cameras to the Iran site comes as negotiators from Iran and six world powers have been meeting in Vienna to try to negotiate a return of the United States and Iran to full implementation to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
While European negotiators said Monday those talks were bogged down dealing with Iranian requests inconsistent with the deal, and they were frustrated that they had not yet been able to get down to substantive negotiations, today a western negotiator suggested it may be going better, though he provided no details.
“The agreement with Iran on replacing surveillance cameras at the Karaj facility is an important development for the IAEA’s verification and monitoring activities in Iran. It will enable us to resume necessary continuity of knowledge at this facility,” IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said in a press statement on the deal. “I sincerely hope that we can continue our constructive discussions to also address and resolve all outstanding safeguards issues in Iran.”
Asked if what Iran and the UN atomic watchdog agency had worked out on Karaj was good enough to avert a censure resolution next week, the western negotiator indicated it was.
Iran’s Nour News agency, close with the country’s supreme national security council, wrote Wednesday that Iran voluntarily agreed to let the agency restore cameras at the site now because the country’s relevant bodies have had sufficient time to investigate suspected sabotage at the site. Iran had removed four IAEA cameras from the workshop that builds components for centrifuges after a sabotage attack in June that it said had damaged one.
“Accordingly, after finishing the main part of judiciary-security investigations on damaged cameras, as well as IAEA's condemning sabotage in (Karaj)/Tessa complex & accepting technical inspection of cameras by Iranian experts before installation, Iran has voluntarily allowed IAEA to replace new cameras,” Nour News reported.
American officials had previously said that without a resolution to the issue, they would be compelled to call an emergency IAEA board of governors meeting before the end of the month.
“If Iran’s non-cooperation is not immediately remedied, including on the issues raised under the JCPOA agenda, especially the restoration of continuity of knowledge at Karaj, the Board will have no choice but to reconvene in extraordinary session before the end of the year to address the crisis,” US Chargé d’Affaires Louis L. Bono told the IAEA Board of Governors on Nov. 25.
US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is expected to travel to Israel next week (Dec. 22) to discuss Iran, Axios reported.
“I think the Israelis are worried about both the various diplomatic outcomes that could emerge from Vienna, … as well as what the US stance will be if the diplomatic process break down,” Eurasia Group Iran analyst Henry Rome said.
“They are worried about if diplomacy works, or if it doesn’t,” Rome told me. “Is the U.S. committed to taking an aggressive stance on Iran….or if it leaves them out to dry.”
Encouraged by then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, then US President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the JCPOA in 2018, and imposed harsh sanctions on Iran as part of his “maximum pressure” campaign. Iran since 2019 has been progressively exceeding the pact’s nuclear limits to protest the lack of sanctions relief it was entitled to under the deal it had then been observing for over three years.
While the deal extended Iran’s “breakout” time (the amount of time it would take to produce enough highly enriched fissile material for a nuclear weapon) to over 12 months, since Iran responded to Trump’s re-imposition of sanctions after quitting the deal, it has been steadily going down. On Dec. 1, Iran began using a cascade of advanced IR-6 centrifuges to enrich uranium to 20% at the underground Fordow facility, shortening its assessed breakout time currently to as little as three weeks, independent experts say. It would take another year or two for Iran to produce a nuclear weapon. CIA Director Bill Burns said this month the CIA has seen no evidence that Iran has made the decision to produce a nuclear weapon.
Trump grew to resent Netanyahu and felt that the former Israeli prime minister had used him on Iran, Axios’ Barak Ravid reports in a new book.
Trump “griped that… Netanyahu was ‘willing to fight Iran to the last American soldier,’” Ravid reports, citing a former senior Trump administration official.