United Nations nuclear watchdog to brief wary Senate Democrats on


Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez has invited the top United Nations nuclear watchdog for a briefing on Iran’s nuclear program that puts the top Senate Democrat on a collision course with President Joe Biden’s plan to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

“Iran’s refusal to cooperate with the IAEA is setting a dangerous precedent and weakening the global non-proliferation regime,” the New Jersey senator wrote to International Atomic Energy Agency chief Rafael Grossi in a Sept. 20 letter obtained by the Washington Examiner. “If Iran is allowed to frustrate the IAEA’s efforts without consequence, other states are likely to follow its example and similarly defy IAEA requests for access to nuclear sites or resist providing the IAEA with complete nuclear declarations.”

Menendez requested that the IAEA provide “a briefing as soon as possible on the situation,” which the Vienna-based Grossi is expected to provide during a visit to Washington on Oct. 19. That invitation reflects, among other things, bipartisan anxiety about Iran’s refusal to answer questions about nuclear material detected at three secret sites — a standoff that some lawmakers say should preclude Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s efforts to negotiate a mutual return to compliance with the nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

“It’s in violation of its NPT obligations,” Menendez told the Washington Examiner, referring to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. “I don’t know how we can go into any negotiation, and much less an agreement, unless Iran comes clean and we know what they did, what they’re doing, and therefore you can move forward.”

US AND EUROPEAN ALLIES SUSPECT ‘IRAN IS TAKING ADVANTAGE’ OF STALLED TALKS TO EXPAND NUCLEAR PROGRAM

That statement underscores the skepticism awaiting any agreement negotiated by State Department special envoy for Iran Rob Malley, who has held several rounds of “indirect talks” to rehabilitate the 2015 deal. That dialogue has run aground in recent months, as Iranian officials have declined to return to the negotiations, stoking U.S. and European suspicion the regime is using the protracted talks as a cover for illicit nuclear activity.

“The runway is getting shorter and shorter,” Blinken told reporters Wednesday. “We are getting closer and closer to a point where simply returning to compliance with the JCPOA won’t recapture the benefits of the agreement.”

Menendez, who voted against the 2015 nuclear deal when the Obama administration first negotiated the pact, sent the letter requesting a briefing from Grossi. This came just one week after the IAEA chief updated the watchdog agency’s board of governors on Iran’s refusal to answer key questions posed by his investigators.

“I remain deeply concerned that nuclear material has been present at undeclared locations in Iran and that the current locations of this nuclear material are not known to the Agency,” he told the IAEA board of governors on Sept. 13. “And I am increasingly concerned that, even after some two years, the safeguards issues outlined above in relation to the four locations in Iran not declared to the Agency, remain unresolved.”

Grossi’s team is mired in a second controversy with Tehran, stemming from the regime’s refusal to allow the agency to access its own surveillance equipment at various facilities in the country. Iranian officials restricted IAEA access to the cameras in response to the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal but eventually agreed to allow the cameras to continue recording — a deal Grossi accepted to leave open the prospect that IAEA inspectors would eventually be able to review the footage.

Even that stopgap measure has proven fragile, as evidenced by Iran’s refusal to allow the IAEA to maintain cameras at a nuclear facility in Karaj. That facility was the scene of an attack in June that Iranian officials attributed to Israel.

“This situation is completely unacceptable,” Menendez emphasized in the Sept. 20 letter.

Grossi’s public warning about the lack of access to undeclared nuclear sites startled another senior Democrat.

“That sounds pretty damning,” Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat, told the Washington Examiner.

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Cardin, who also sits on the Foreign Relations Committee and led the Democratic side of the panel when the deal was struck in 2015, agreed that Iran must account for that missing nuclear material before any restoration of the 2015 nuclear deal.

“If they have undeclared sites, absolutely, he said. “Because as part of the JCPOA, they were supposed to move towards [the Additional Protocol], and that requires that when you have evidence, that there is cooperation.”

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Tags: News, Foreign Policy, National Security, Iran Nuclear Deal, Senate Foreign Relations, Iran, Bob Menendez, Ben Cardin, Nuclear Proliferation, Nuclear Weapons

Original Author: Joel Gehrke

Original Location: United Nations nuclear watchdog to brief wary Senate Democrats on Iran program

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