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IAEA, Iran reach temporary nuclear inspections deal

International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi (C) addresses the media after his arrival from Teheran, Iran, at the VIP Terminal of the Vienna International Airport in Schwechat, Austria, on Sunday. Photo by Florian Wieser/EPA-EFE
International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi (C) addresses the media after his arrival from Teheran, Iran, at the VIP Terminal of the Vienna International Airport in Schwechat, Austria, on Sunday. Photo by Florian Wieser/EPA-EFE

Feb. 22 (UPI) -- The International Atomic Energy Agency announced it has reached a temporary deal with Iran for its inspectors to maintain access to monitor nuclear activity in the country, potentially creating the conditions to restart nuclear-accord negotiations between the United States and the Middle Eastern nation.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, the director general of the IAEA, told reporters Sunday that they have reached a "technical agreement" with Iranian officials to continue nuclear verification and monitoring activities.

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"This is a temporary solution that allows us to continue to give to the world assurances of what is going on there with the hope that we can return to a fuller picture," Grossi told reporters during a brief press conference outside the Vienna International Airport after returning from Iran on Sunday night.

The announcement of the agreement and the IAEA's trip to Iran occurred a week after Tehran warned it would on Sunday stop implementing the IAEA's Additional Protocol -- which provides inspectors with an expanded set of tools to verify the peaceful use of nuclear material -- if the United States does not return to an Obama-era nuclear accord and other involved countries don't start to live up to their commitments.

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Iran announced the ultimatum two months after its Parliament passed a law to accelerate the development of its nuclear program, which included limiting access to inspectors, if the signatories of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action -- the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Russia, China and the European Union -- did not return to full compliancy by Sunday.

In the Sunday agreement between the IAEA and Iran, Tehran said it would allow IAEA inspectors necessary verification and monitoring activities in accordance with the newly passed law for up to three months.

Grossi explained that the agreement does not maintain the Additional Protocol and that inspectors will have less access but their technical agreement prevents them from being blind to what is occurring in Iran.

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"This law exists," he said. "This law is going to be applied, which means the Additional Protocol, much to my regret, is going to be suspended. Nevertheless, we decided to go there and agree on a specific bilateral arrangement ... that will allow us to bridge this period in the best possible way without losing the necessary monitoring and verification capacities."

Grossi explained that the deal can be extended but that it can also be terminated at any time, with hopes of the latter occurring with Iran deciding to return to the Additional Protocol.

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The head of the nuclear watchdog made no reference to any other country by name but said his hope and that of the IAEA was for this agreement to stabilize an unstable situation "so that other political consultations at other levels can take place."

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Former President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the United States from the JCPOA in May 2018, calling it defective, and slapped sanctions on the Middle Eastern country.

Following that decision, the Trump administration, led by its State Department, carried out a so-called maximum pressure campaign with sanctions at its core to force Iran back to the negotiating table on a new deal.

In response, Iran repeatedly reneged on its commitments under the JCPOA.

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Under the previous administration, relations between Washington and Tehran sank to a record low that included maritime skirmishes and the United States assassinating military leader Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike in January 2020.

Relations between the two sank to their lowest level in decades on Jan. 11, 2020, when Iran, in a heightened state of alert after it fired multiple missiles at two U.S. military bases in Iraq in retaliation for Soleimani's death, shot down an Ukrainian passenger jet leaving Tehran airport, killing all 176 on board.

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President Joe Biden, who assumed the White House last month, said he will rejoin the deal but only if Iran first returns to its commitments.

On Sunday, national security adviser Jake Sullivan told CBS News' State of the Union that Biden is prepared to talk with Iran about it returning to strict compliance with the JCPOA.

"That offer still stands because we believe diplomacy is the best way to do it," he said. "Iran has not yet responded."

Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, told state-run Press TV on Sunday that while Biden has ended the rhetoric of his predecessor, the United States continues Trump's plan.

"Nothing has changed," he said. "Biden claims that Trump's policy of maximum pressure was maximum failure ... but for all practical purposes, they are pursuing the same policy."

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