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UN Watchdog to Inspect Iran’s Alleged Secret Nuclear Sites

Iran has agreed to allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)- a UN nuclear watchdog, to access two sites suspected to be remnants of Iran’s dismantled nuclear programme.

The announcement was made on a visit to Tehran by IAEA Chief Rafael Grossi. The IAEA delegation held High-Level talks with Iranian officials led by Ali Akbar, the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization.

Following the talks, Grossi and Akbar issued a joint statement that read: “Iran is voluntarily providing the IAEA with access to the two locations specified by the IAEA.” One of the sites is near Tehran, while the other is near the central Iranian city of Isfahan.

In return for the access, IAEA has agreed not to pursue any further questions regarding the sites.

The IAEA had expressed concern in June this year that the two sites might have housed undeclared nuclear materials, and witnessed undeclared nuclear-related activities in the early 2000s, potentially as part of Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons.

The IAEA inspectors will be visiting the sites and verifying whether Iran’s activities there have been in compliance with the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement (CSA) it signed with the IAEA in 1974. Under the CSA, Iran is barred from acquiring nuclear weapons and may carry out the nuclear activity for peaceful purposes only after declaring the type and quantity of nuclear material in its jurisdiction. Any evidence of an undeclared activity or material would land Iran in hot water.

Although Iran has denied violating the CSA, evidence previously collected by the IAEA suggests that until 2003, Iran conducted "a range of activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device".

The IAEA derives its authority to carry out snap inspections of suspected and declared nuclear sites from the so-called Additional Protocol (AP) to the CSA Iran signed in 2016. But, the exact dates of the inspection are confidential, Grossi told reporters it will take place “very, very soon”.

The IAEA had for months pressured Iran to grant the agency access to the two sites. In fact, the IAEA Board of Governors had passed a resolution in its June meeting calling for the same.

However, Iran had until Wednesday refused to grant access, arguing that the IAEA was acting without any legal basis or concrete evidence- simply at the behest of Iran’s enemy- Israel. Iran has historically accused Israel of politicizing the IAEA to advance its geopolitical ambitions.

The IAEA inspection will take place in the backdrop of intense power politics being played out on the global arena over the Iranian Nuclear Deal. Under the 2015 Deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran had promised to dismantle its nuclear program, and allow IAEA inspectors into the country, all in exchange for lifting of UN sanction on the country.

Although, in 2018, the US unilaterally withdrew from the deal and has since then unsuccessfully lobbied to invoke the controversial “snapback” mechanism in the deal, which would re-impose crippling UN sanctions on Iran. Iran’s clerical regime fears for its own survival should any sanctions exacerbate the country’s already devastated economy and cause political turmoil. All these factors have heightened animosity and tensions in the region.

In case the IAEA inspections reveal traces of illegal nuclear activities at the sites, it might expose the true extent of Iran’s alleged secret nuclear weapons program. But, experts believe that demolition and sanitization work at the site over the last two decades would have erased any conclusive traces from the site.

One may wonder, is that why Iran agreed to let the IAEA in? After all, it was a convenient low-hanging fruit to create the halo of “cooperation” and “mutual understanding”, two values the Joint Statement strongly emphasized.

Reporter- Shreyas Datar

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