Nuclear Monitors Deal With Iran Gives Diplomacy a Chance

International atomic monitors struck a deal with Iranian officials to address concerns over the country’s nuclear activities, potentially creating space for diplomats to reduce tensions with steps toward restoring a crumbling 2015 accord.

Technical experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency and Iran will begin special consultations next month designed to “once and for all” clarify the source of decades-old uranium particles detected at undeclared sites, according to Rafael Mariano Grossi, the agency’s director general. The Argentine diplomat wants the issue dealt with by the IAEA’s next board meeting in June.

Recent “exchanges of letters and messages seemed like talking past each other” and the new initiative obliges both sides to “sit around the table” to solve the problem, Grossi said Thursday at a press conference at the end of a quarterly IAEA meeting in Vienna. “There are a very serious set of questions. My job is to clarify everything.”

The deal paid immediate dividends as a U.S.-backed resolution rebuking Iran over its lack of cooperation with monitors was withdrawn, handing Washington and Tehran time to determine whether they can salvage the nuclear deal.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord and reimposed sanctions in 2018 as he sought to weaken Iran economically and militarily. Iranian authorities subsequently breached key nuclear covenants as tensions threatened to spark a regional conflict.

Each side is calling on the other to make the first move back toward compliance with the deal at a time when their standoff is fueling tensions in the Middle East. Iranian-backed forces in Iraq have stepped up their attacks on bases hosting U.S. forces, and Houthi rebels in Yemen, aligned with Tehran, have struck Saudi Arabia’s energy and security installations.

“Iran has now been given another opportunity by the Director General to offer up the necessary cooperation before this Board next meets,” U.S. envoy to the IAEA Louis Bono said in a statement. “We will be watching closely for a constructive Iranian response that enables the substantive progress.”

The decision to withdraw the censure was welcomed by Iran, which had earlier threatened to further curtail the IAEA’s monitoring activities if the measure had passed. The draft resolution would have expressed “serious concern” with Tehran’s nuclear work and ensured that the issue remained on the board’s agenda.

“Today’s developments can preserve the path of diplomacy that Iran and the IAEA have opened, and prepare the ground for the full implementation of commitments by all sides in the JCPOA,” Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement, using an abbreviation for the 2015 deal.

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