After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Western allies are faced with another test of security and diplomatic credibility: the Iranian nuclear. Since the complete cessation in September 2022 of attempts to restore the 2015 JCPoA agreement (for Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – « plan d’action global conjoint ») which aims to guarantee the civilian nature of Iran’s nuclear program, signed in 2015, the European countries of the E3 (France, Germany, United Kingdom) and the United States seem seized with dread. Publicly acknowledging the end of the JCPoA and the diplomatic deadlock would mean entering the unknown and a risk of escalation, between redoubled economic sanctions and possible military operations. But during this suspension, which has been dragging on for months, Iran has further increased the notch of multiple breaches of its commitments under the JCPoA.
By going to Tehran on Friday March 3, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, tried to maintain a thread of discussion with the regime to restore control of its activities. On Saturday, he met President Ebrahim Raïssi for the first time, a positive sign in itself.. “We are taking steps in the right direction”, noted the director of the IAEA on Saturday, back in Vienna. The information does not appear in full in the joint press release, but was given by Mr. Grossi: Tehran would have accepted the restoration of cameras recording nuclear activities, disconnected by its will, as well as access to places refused since February 2021, such as heavy water or centrifuge production sites. But in this case, Westerners are used to the gap between promises and their implementation.
Another notorious commitment, according to the director, which will have to be clarified during an upcoming meeting between experts in Tehran: the Iranians would have accepted “50% more inspections” at the strategic site of Fordo. This is where traces of uranium enriched to 83.7% were discovered, just below the fateful bar of 90%, necessary for the production of a bomb. Buried in a mountain near Qom, the site was clandestine for a long time, before the revelation of its existence in 2009. In November 2022, Iran resumed enrichment there at 60%, while the JCPoA did not allow the overrun from a threshold of 3.67%.
The regime ensures that these traces at 83.7% are a punctual and accidental episode. “We do not judge intentions”, said Mr. Grossi, who underlines the absence of accumulation of uranium at this level. Westerners are hesitating between several hypotheses, not excluding a form of Iranian test from their determination. “It is highly unlikely that this is the result of an accident, a change in the configuration of the centrifuges, says Kelsey Davenport of the Arms Control Association, one of Iran’s top nuclear experts. Perhaps the Iranians were carrying out an experiment, or they wanted to assess our eventual response to such a level of enrichment. Either way, Tehran must clearly understand that this is totally unacceptable. »
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