May 25, 2021 | Policy Brief

Iran Continues to Extort the International Atomic Energy Agency

May 25, 2021 | Policy Brief

Iran Continues to Extort the International Atomic Energy Agency

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran agreed on Monday to extend for one month a monitoring agreement that was set to expire over the weekend. The IAEA’s director general, Rafael Grossi, reached the deal with Iran last February, when Tehran pulled out of a supplementary monitoring agreement with the IAEA called the Additional Protocol (AP) and stopped observing extra monitoring provisions specific to the 2015 Iran nuclear accord, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Under the Iran-IAEA arrangement reached in February, Tehran would destroy the IAEA’s data and monitoring records if Iran did not receive sanctions relief from the United States and other world powers within 90 days. Now, Iran essentially threatens to erase the data around June 24 if Washington does not lift sanctions.

The content of the bridge agreement remains secret, but Grossi has characterized it as a “stop-gap measure” to maintain insight into Tehran’s nuclear activities – insight that would be lost without the AP and JCPOA monitoring.

The arrangement appears to deal with real-time remote electronic and surveillance monitoring of Iran’s enrichment levels, as well as video monitoring of Iran’s activities at centrifuge R&D sites and sites such as uranium mines where the IAEA currently has no physical access due to Tehran’s drawdown of its safeguards commitments. Under the regime’s ongoing adherence to the IAEA Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, the agency maintains physical access to Iran’s facilities that use nuclear material, such as the Natanz and Fordow enrichment plants and associated nuclear fuel cycle facilities.

The IAEA wants to use the footage and data collected under the bridge agreement, which Tehran threatens to erase, to “reconstruct” what happened at certain sites over the past months and to “reconcile” the agency’s own estimates. Grossi believes the IAEA is “flying blind” if it cannot reconcile its estimates with data collected in Iran, due to the depth and breadth of the Iranian nuclear program.

The Islamic Republic’s threats to destroy safeguards data amount to unprecedented extortion of the IAEA. Tehran has also put the agency in the position of permitting Iran to pick and choose which safeguards obligations it will fulfill. This sets a negative precedent for other states, which may also seek piecemeal safeguards.

The Biden administration should not grant Iran sanctions relief, which would reward and incentivize the clerical regime’s nuclear extortion. Lifting sanctions would effectively foreclose any chance that the regime will cooperate with the IAEA’s ongoing safeguards investigation, which is examining Tehran’s undeclared use of nuclear material at covert sites.

Independent experts assess that the IAEA still needs to visit some 17 to 21 suspicious nuclear sites identified in a cache of Iran’s secret nuclear files. As underscored by the regime’s latest threat to destroy monitoring data, the international community still has no confidence that the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program is peaceful.

The United States and its European allies should halt the Vienna negotiations to reestablish the JCPOA, in an effort to oblige Iran to come clean to the IAEA about its nuclear activities. Americans and Europeans need to use the upcoming June 7 meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors to develop a consensus on referring Iran to the UN Security Council for sanctions for Tehran’s failure to maintain IAEA inspection standards.

Andrea Stricker is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where she also contributes to FDD’s Iran Program, International Organizations Program, and Center on Military and Political Power (CMPP). For more analysis from Andrea, the Iran Program, the International Organizations Program, and CMPP, please subscribe HERE. Follow Andrea on Twitter @StrickerNonpro. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD and @FDD_Iran and @FDD_CMPP. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.


International Organizations Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Nuclear Military and Political Power Nonproliferation