US warns Iran’s recent actions could lead to a “deeper nuclear crisis”

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said earlier on Thursday that Iran “initially” will remove all cameras installed under the 2015 nuclear deal, after the country was censored earlier this week by the IAEA board for not cooperating fully with the nuclear watchdog.

In a statement, Blinken accused Iran of threatening “further nuclear provocations” and of making “further reductions in transparency”.

The top US diplomat called such steps “counterproductive and will further complicate our efforts to return to full implementation” of the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“The only result of such a path will be a deeper nuclear crisis and further economic and political isolation for Iran,” he said. “We continue to pressure Iran to opt for diplomacy and de-escalation instead.”

Nuclear watchdog says that Iran is a few weeks away from having a 'significant amount' of enriched uranium

Iran’s move to remove the cameras could jeopardize the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which sets verifiable limits on Iran’s nuclear program designed to prevent the country from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

The head of the IAEA said earlier Thursday that Iran “in principle” will remove all cameras installed under the JCPOA, while warning that the move could be a “fatal blow” to the pact.

“The idea is that what was outside the comprehensive security agreement will be removed, this is the principle, we must now see how it works,” IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi told reporters at the quarterly board meeting in Vienna.

However, Biden administration officials did not go that far.

“This is very unwelcome and will make everything more difficult. But we will not go so far as to say that this is the beginning of the end,” a senior administration official told CNN.

A State Department spokesman told CNN that Iran has not yet taken steps to remove the 27 cameras used to monitor nuclear facilities. But that if Iran follows through, it will create complications to return to the agreement, they said.

Grossi told CNN that it is “technically impossible” to have a nuclear deal with Iran if it restricts access to its facilities by disabling the cameras.

“We have a number of means to verify Iran’s activities in a number of areas related to the JCPOA. When Iran begins to restrict these accesses, at some point, if the JCPOA were to be revived … participants must have a baseline, a necessary amount to know “What Iran has or does not have, so that we can confirm,” he said in an interview with CNN’s Becky Anderson on Thursday. “If you do not have it, it is technically impossible to have an agreement.”

Talks to revive the agreement – abandoned by the United States under the Trump administration – broke off in March without an agreement. However, the Biden administration still hopes to save the 2015 agreement.

While Blinken on Thursday blamed Iran for not yet having an agreement to revive the agreement, he continued to express openness to save the nuclear deal.

“The United States remains committed to a reciprocal return to full implementation of the JCPOA. We are prepared to enter into an agreement based on the understanding we negotiated with our European allies in Vienna over many months. Such an agreement has been available since March, but we can only conclude negotiations and implement it if Iran drops its additional requirements that are outside the JCPOA, Binken said.

At the press conference on Thursday, Grossi said that the IAEA will not be able to give the JCPOA signatories exact details of Iran’s progress if the nuclear deal is not revived within the next “three to four weeks”.

“We are in a very tense situation with the negotiations on the revival of JCPOA,” he said.

The cameras are spread across nuclear facilities across Iran, including Natanz, Isfahan and Tehran, Grossi said.

“These cameras are located in places related to the production of centrifuge parts,” Grossi added, referring to the removed surveillance equipment.

Nuclear watchdog says that Iran is a few weeks away from having a 'significant amount' of enriched uranium

The measure is intended to prevent the IAEA from applying its “continuity of knowledge” – a principle used by the nuclear watchdog to prevent undetected access to nuclear material or undeclared operations.

“The window of opportunity is very small,” Grossi said.

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said on Wednesday that it deactivated two IAEA cameras installed to monitor activities inside a nuclear facility, according to the state news agency IRNA.

The Iranian organization said that “more than 80%” of the IAEA’s cameras will continue to operate normally as they fall within the “security agreement”, but that the two deactivated cameras were installed “beyond the security agreement”, IRNA reported.

On Wednesday, the United States said it was looking at the issue of Iran’s compliance with the IAEA separately from negotiations on a return to the JCPOA.

“But it is, in our view, an agreement on the table that will bring about a return of compliance-for-compliance to the JCPOA without dealing with irrelevant issues. That agreement is available to Iran. They should take it. If they do not. “It’s up to them,” Sullivan told reporters when asked if Iran’s deactivation of the two IAEA cameras would affect the resumption of talks on a return to the nuclear deal.

Iran censored

Iran hinted that the move to disable the cameras was reciprocal of a resolution passed this week by the United States, Britain, France and Germany, censoring Tehran for failing to cooperate fully with the IAEA. The resolution was adopted on Wednesday by the member countries of the IAEA’s board.

Following the adoption of the resolution, the United States and European countries called on Iran to comply with the IAEA and to clarify and resolve issues “without further delay.”

However, Iran condemned the resolution, calling it a “political act, incorrect and unconstructive.”

“The adoption of the resolution will only weaken the process of cooperation and cooperation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the IAEA,” the Iranian Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

In a report given to member states last week, the IAEA found that Iran has increased its enriched uranium stockpile and has not responded to unexplained nuclear activities in three undeclared areas.
Grossi also told the board member on Monday that Iran is only a few weeks away from having a “significant amount of enriched uranium”.

Britain, France and Germany warned on Tuesday that Iran’s nuclear program is “now more advanced than at any time before” and threatens “international security and risks undermining the global non-proliferation regime”.

The United States relies on the IAEA to monitor Iran’s nuclear program, but the United States also collects intelligence on Iran’s capabilities.

A State Department spokesman told CNN: “If implemented, the escalating steps Iran has threatened to undermine the IAEA’s ability to verify Iran’s JCPOA – related statements, using the cameras and other surveillance equipment installed for that purpose, if any of the nuclear activities. they have been carrying out since February 2021. ”

“This will mean that Iran will have to provide the information and transparency the IAEA deems necessary to allow it to verify Iran’s declarations as part of any negotiated return to full implementation of the JCPOA. This will obviously complicate Iran’s stated policy objectives of mutual return to full implementation of the agreement, “they added.

U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Wednesday praised the IAEA board for adopting the resolution, saying it was “high time” that they “publicly hold Iran accountable for its inability to provide credible and timely cooperation with IAEA investigation into undeclared nuclear material. “

“Iran now has enough uranium to produce a nuclear weapon. This latest milestone returns us to a familiar question: At what point will the administration recognize that Iran’s nuclear progress is making a return to the 2015 JCPOA that is not in US strategic interest?” he said in a statement.

But for several months, the Biden administration has continued to say that Iran is a few weeks away from having enough fissile material to make an atomic bomb, and they maintained that view on Thursday.

Henry Rome, who covers Middle East policy as deputy head of research at the Eurasia Group, told CNN that it is “very tough to go on to say that an agreement is really viable at this stage as Iran is following these serious steps”.

“There are two dynamics here: First, to get back to the agreement, you have to have a baseline for what Iran has and where Iran has it, and by removing these cameras, it reduces your knowledge of that very issue. It creates a lot. “Doubt and doubt do not contribute to an already quite controversial proposal,” he said.

“And then the broader point is that the serious Iranian reaction says something about where they think of a deal. Today is the day the music died on the idea that Iran was trying to preserve some space for a deal,” he said, adding that ” it is still a way “, but calls it a” major blow to the idea that the Iranians are really committed to reviving the agreement. “

CNN’s Ramin Mostaghim, Zahid Mahmood, Teele Rebane and Zeena Saifi contributed to this report.