Train wreck averted—for now
IAEA, Iran announce agreement after UN rejects U.S. snapback bid
It is still far too early for any victory laps for proponents of Iran nuclear diplomacy. But what was seen as a potential diplomatic train wreck courtesy of the Trump administration has seemingly been averted by skillful diplomacy by the Europeans and other UN Security Council parties, at least for now.
Days after the UN Security Council firmly rejected the Trump administration’s bid to invoke UN snapback sanctions on Iran, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran jointly announced a breakthrough today.
“After intensive bilateral consultations, Iran and the IAEA reached an agreement on the resolution of the safeguards implementation issues specified by the IAEA, in good faith,” the IAEA/Iran joint statement said. “In this regard, Iran is voluntarily providing the IAEA with access to the two locations specified by the IAEA and facilitating the IAEA verification activities to resolve these issues. Dates for the IAEA access and the verification activities have been agreed.”
The agreement came a day after IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi held consultations in Iran, where he met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) chief Dr. Ali Akbar Salehi.
It also followed the Indonesian ambassador to the UN and current UN Security Council president reporting to the Council on Tuesday that, with 13 of its 15 members rejecting the U.S. standing to invoke snapback, the Council could not proceed with it. With no consensus, the Council was “not in the position to take further action” on the U.S. snapback claim, Indonesian Ambassador Dian Triansyah Djani said Tuesday.
“As a consequence, we firmly believe that no further steps can take place within the Security Council,” France’s Deputy Ambassador to the UN Anne Gueguen told the Council Tuesday.
The European Union and Russia welcomed the IAEA/Iran announcement.
“Real breakthrough!” proclaimed
Russia’s ambassador to the IAEA Mikhail Ulyanov on Twitter. “The visit of #IAEA Director General R. Grossi to #Iran resulted in very important agreements, incl. regarding access to 2 sites specified be IAEA.This is yet another proof that dialogue is more productive than pressure. Congratulations to both sides!”
EU deputy foreign policy chief Helga Schmid vowed to continue efforts to try to preserve the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), including at a meeting of the 7-member Joint Commission overseeing implementation of the accords that she will chair in Vienna on Sept. 1 of next week.
“Good news from Tehran on cooperation between #Iran and @iaeaorg,” Schmid tweeted.
“The EU trusts the impartial and independent role of the agency. In the meantime we continue our work to preserve #JCPOA with Joint Commission next week.”
Some diplomatic observers suggested that the breakthrough would not likely have occurred if Iran had not been satisfied with the strength of the European and international rejection of the US snapback effort last week.
“No. This is certainly a card they [Iran] had up their sleeve to play in case the E3 stands firm on the snapback issue,” a diplomatic contact who works on Iran said, referring to the three European parties to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the UK, France and Germany. “It’s a smart move on their part.”
It is perhaps unexpected, and very tentatively encouraging, that the initial outcome of the Trump administration snapback effort last week—resulting so far in its failure—has seemingly been towards the potential for a shoring up of the deal, rather than towards its further dissolution.
The intensity of European anger and frustration at the attempted U.S. maneuvering last week on snapback was striking. It was driven in part by their increasing sense over recent months that the Trump administration was not consulting seriously, in good faith; but rather had been using the October expiration of a conventional arms embargo in the UN Security Council resolution which enshrines the Iran nuclear deal as a pretext to try to collapse the deal, and had not been serious in trying to work with them on a solution to the concern they share.
Officials used words like “disingenuous” to describe Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s accusations that the Europeans were “siding with the ayatollahs,” and described their frustration that the Trump administration had mostly ignored their feedback on a U.S. draft proposal for a UN arms embargo extension on Iran and ideas for how to try to solve the issue.
The U.S. shared a draft arms embargo resolution with the Europeans last fall, which the Europeans told them would never fly. The Trump administration then several months later shared the exact same text with them.
“To be frank, if you want to convince everybody you are not interested in the issue of the arms embargo, then table this text, because it is not going to go anywhere,” one person described. Ideas shared by allies for how the arms embargo expiration might be addressed got little or no reception from the U.S. administration.
“They made clear they were not interested,” the person said, adding the only thing the U.S. administration seemed interested in in the end was snapback.
“The point is, if you really want to deal with the arms embargo issue, there are ways of getting a better situation than now,” the person said. “If there had been will on the U.S. side to engage in some of these solutions, it would have been possible to start a conversation.”
(Photo Credit: Vahid Salemi/AP. The director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Grossi, center left) speaks with Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, center, before a meeting in Tehran, Iran, on August 25, 2020.)