May 3, 2023 | Policy Brief

Iran’s Meaningless Concession Ahead of Key Nuclear Meeting

Iran has begun reinstalling surveillance cameras and monitoring technologies at key nuclear sites ahead of a June International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting, according to a reporter for The Wall Street Journal. However, Tehran will not provide video recordings and data to nuclear inspectors unless the Biden administration provides Iran sanctions relief — making the reinstallation a meaningless concession designed only to ward off Western pressure.

In March, the IAEA’s director general, Rafael Grossi, brokered an agreement under which Tehran committed to reinstalling surveillance cameras and other monitoring technologies that Iran had removed in June 2022. Grossi told PBS NewsHour on April 1 that Iran was following through and the installation could take a few weeks.

Under the terms of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Tehran permitted the IAEA to install more than two dozen cameras at nuclear sites, such as centrifuge manufacturing and assembly facilities, in addition to cameras Iran already had in place under its safeguards agreement with the IAEA. Tehran also put in place near real-time monitoring equipment at Iran’s Natanz enrichment facility and heavy water production plant.

In February 2021, Iran announced it would no longer abide by the JCPOA’s monitoring provisions. However, Grossi brokered a deal whereby Tehran would allow the cameras and equipment to remain in place but keep the footage and data in its custody and provide it to the agency only when Iran had received Western sanctions relief.

Yet subsequent nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers, including the United States, failed to produce any sanctions relief. Tehran proceeded to announce in June 2022 that it would remove some 27 cameras, as well as the IAEA’s electronic monitors, from nuclear sites. It has never turned over video footage or data collected between February 2021 and June 2022.

By reinstalling cameras and monitoring now but not providing the footage and data to the IAEA, Iran has simply resurrected an old point of leverage to use over the West. It has conceded nothing in the way of enhanced safeguards or transparency.

The IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors meets next in early June. The board withheld censure of Iran at its last meeting in March and has not passed a censure resolution since November 2022. At the March board meeting, European members pushed for a censure resolution, but the United States blocked it despite Iran’s enrichment of uranium to almost 84 percent purity, which is near atomic weapons-grade — the highest level Tehran has achieved to date.

The Biden administration should reverse that error by ensuring the board acts decisively at its June meeting.

The board must censure Tehran and impose a deadline for it to halt provocative nuclear activities and comply with the IAEA’s safeguards investigation. The censure resolution should also give Tehran a deadline to reactivate reinstalled cameras and monitoring equipment and provide all past and future recordings and data to the IAEA.

The board should warn that, absent compliance by its deadline, it will refer Tehran’s case to the United Nations (UN) Security Council to reimpose UN sanctions on Iran, which remain lifted by the nuclear deal. Russia and China cannot use their Security Council vetoes to block the reimposition of UN sanctions on Iran provided any other party triggers the snapback mechanism.

The Biden administration should see Iran’s latest action for what it is: an attempt to delay consequences for its nuclear provocations. The United States and its allies should make sure this gambit fails.

Andrea Stricker is a research fellow and deputy director of the nonproliferation and biodefense program at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Anthony Ruggiero is a senior fellow and senior director of the program and served as the National Security Council’s senior director for counterproliferation and biodefense in the Trump administration. Richard Goldberg is a senior advisor at FDD, directs FDD’s International Organizations program, and contributes to FDD’s Center on Economic and Financial Power. He previously served on the White House National Security Council, as deputy chief of staff to former U.S. Senator Mark Kirk, and as chief of staff to former Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner. 

For more analysis from the authors and FDD please subscribe HERE. Follow Andrea, Anthony, and Rich on Twitter @StrickerNonpro, @NatSecAnthony, and @rich_goldberg. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.


Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran Nuclear Nonproliferation