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IAEA director-general Rafael Grossi. Picture: LISA LEUTNER/REUTERS
IAEA director-general Rafael Grossi. Picture: LISA LEUTNER/REUTERS

Vienna — UN nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi will hold talks with senior officials in Iran on Monday and Tuesday, hoping to bolster his agency’s oversight of Iran’s nuclear activities.

Since then-president Donald Trump’s decision in 2018 to pull the US out of a landmark deal between Iran and major powers that restricted Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief, that accord has unravelled.

Iran retaliated to the reimposition of sanctions lifted under the deal by breaching and going far beyond the nuclear restrictions. It is now enriching uranium to up to 60% purity, close to the 90% of weapons grade, and has enough uranium enriched to that level, if enriched further, for two atomic bombs.

Western powers say there is no credible civil justification for that. Iran says its aims are purely peaceful.

Below are some of the difficulties the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) faces in Iran.

Snap inspections

Under the 2015 deal between Iran and major powers, Iran agreed to implement the additional protocol, an agreement between the agency and member states that lets the agency carry out snap inspections at locations of interest, including undeclared ones, not just the declared facilities it inspects regularly.

As part of measures it announced in February 2021, Iran stopped implementing the additional protocol, ending snap inspections.

Monitoring scope

As a party to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT), Iran is subject to atomic energy agency inspections of its core nuclear facilities, such as its uranium-enrichment plants at Natanz and Fordow. The 2015 deal, however, expanded the scope of agency monitoring to more activities and facilities.

Those included production and inventory of parts for centrifuges, the machines that enrich uranium, as well as yellowcake, a form of uranium that needs further processing before it can be fed into centrifuges for enrichment.

Iran scrapped those extra measures in February 2021. The IAEA has now lost “continuity of knowledge” on items, including the number of centrifuges Iran has, heightening the fear that Iran could set up a secret enrichment site. Without snap inspections, that would be much harder to detect.


To cushion the blow of the measures announced in February 2021, the atomic energy agency struck a deal with Tehran under which surveillance cameras and other equipment carrying out extra monitoring introduced by the 2015 deal would stay in place, but the data collected would remain in Iran’s hands, under seal.

The agency still has not had access to any of that footage.

In June 2022, Iran had the agency remove those cameras. In March 2023, Iran and the agency agreed on a “joint statement” that was short on detail but that the agency understood to be a sweeping pledge of co-operation by Iran, including on reinstalling those cameras.

In the months after the statement, a fraction of the cameras the agency wanted to install were installed, but the agency says there was “no further progress” after June 2023 on co-operation as outlined in the joint statement.


In September 2023, Iran barred many of the agency’s top enrichment experts assigned to the country, which diplomats said left only one such expert on the highly sensitive technology.

The agency condemned the move, saying that though it was technically allowed, it was unprecedented and a “very serious blow” to its ability to do its job properly in Iran.

Uranium traces

The International Atomic Energy Agency has been demanding for years that Iran explain the origin of uranium traces found at largely old but undeclared sites in Iran.

The agency’s 35-nation board of governors passed a resolution in June 2022 urging Iran to co-operate with the agency on the issue “without delay” and then another in November 2022 ordering Iran to co-operate urgently with the agency’s investigation.

Iran has said such resolutions are “anti-Iranian” and politically motivated. Recent agency reports have said Iran has still not provided technically credible explanations for the uranium traces.

Modified Code 3.1

According to the IAEA so-called modified Code 3.1, part of the agreement spelling out Iran’s obligations under the non-proliferation treaty “provides for the submission to the agency of design information for new nuclear facilities as soon as the decision to construct, or to authorise construction of, a new facility has been taken, whichever is the earlier”.

Since February 2021 Iran has said it is no longer implementing the code, but the agency says it is a legal obligation that Iran cannot suspend.

This again raises the question of whether Iran is planning or has started to build nuclear facilities in secret. It has publicly announced plans for new nuclear power plants and broken ground on them without informing the agency.


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