Iran Rebuked on Nuclear Inspections in Win by U.S., Europe

Europe, U.S. Win Vote Rebuking Iran Over Nuclear Inspections

The U.S. and Europe won a key vote admonishing Iran for its failure to cooperate fully with global nuclear monitors, widening a rift with Tehran’s allies China and Russia.

The resolution that passed Friday with 25 votes at the International Atomic Energy Agency calls on Iran to grant access to inspectors who want to visit two sites that may have hosted low-level nuclear activities two decades ago. Growing rancor over the issue forced diplomats to break Covid-19 social-distancing measures in order to conduct a physical vote at the IAEA’s headquarters in Vienna.

“The European Union continues to fully support the work of the IAEA in monitoring and verifying the entirety of Iran’s nuclear activities,” Peter Stano, the EU’s foreign-policy spokesman, said in an emailed statement after the vote. “We also support all efforts to facilitate the IAEA in carrying out its mandate. Iran should cooperate with the IAEA in full and in a timely manner in line with its safeguards agreements.”

Underscoring the divergence between U.S. and EU positions, however, a European diplomat said the so-called EU-3 that drafted the resolution and are signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran -- Germany, France and the U.K. -- wanted to remain in dialog with Tehran. They maintained their opposition to the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure,” the diplomat said.

U.S. officials called the finding that Iran was barring monitors a troubling indication of its intentions and raised the possibility that Iran was hiding far more than anyone knew. They said Iran’s actions set a dangerous precedent for other nations to violate their nuclear nonproliferation commitments.

“Iran has a choice: It can answer the IAEA’s questions and comply with the legitimate requests for access, let inspectors travel freely and be transparent about its activity or it can take its current path of stonewalling and deception,” Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, told reporters in a telephone briefing from the U.S. later Friday.

China and Russia rejected the resolution, while seven nations including India, Pakistan and South Africa abstained. Together, the countries that withheld their support are building more than half of the world’s new nuclear reactors -- a critical measure for the IAEA, which was founded to promote peaceful uses of atomic energy.

Ahead of the vote, China warned that even a toned-down rebuke of Tehran over its alleged lack of cooperation with inspectors could unravel global efforts to contain the spread of nuclear weapons, as well as sounding the death knell for the already beleaguered 2015 accord.

“The root causes of this situation lie in the unilateral and bullying practices of the U.S.,” Beijing envoy to the IAEA Wang Qun said Thursday.

President Donald Trump took the U.S. out of the multinational deal with Iran in 2018 as he ramped up an economic offensive against the Islamic Republic, but other participants led by the Europeans vowed to salvage the pact. Iran responded to the U.S. exit by gradually breaking some of its enrichment obligations.

Iran Rebuked on Nuclear Inspections in Win by U.S., Europe

On Friday, Iran rejected the IAEA resolution and said it would give an “appropriate response.” Tehran’s permanent representative to the organization warned the world body risked “destroying” the 2015 deal.

IAEA inspectors conducted a record number of visits in Iran last year, including 33 snap inspections. Stricter monitoring, including at short notice, was a critical plank of the landmark agreement.

The resolution adopted by the IAEA’s board was the first formal rebuke of Iran since 2012. Russia, which hosted Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for talks this week, said that the even the milder reprimand that was eventually passed in Vienna was overblown and risked escalating tensions.

“Undoubted progress has been made in the work between Iran and the secretariat on the issue of access,” Moscow’s envoy Mikhail Ulyanov said in a statement. “The tension around the issue of access in this particular case seems completely abnormal, since there is no the slightest risk of proliferation.”

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