The State Department says Iran’s refusal to permit international nuclear inspectors access to its most contested atomic sites is making it harder for the Biden administration to achieve its goal of returning to the 2015 nuclear deal.
"Iran says it wants to return to a diplomatic solution but continues to take steps to make that harder," a State Department spokesman told the Washington Free Beacon on Friday, responding to questions about the Biden administration’s stance on Iran’s violations of the nuclear deal.
Iran is restricting access to its nuclear sites, sparking a row between the country and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is required to inspect Iran’s sites as part of the original nuclear agreement. Since the United States abandoned the deal in 2018 under the Trump administration, Tehran has repeatedly sparred with the IAEA and violated the deal by producing highly enriched uranium, the key component in an atomic weapon.
Iran’s nuclear transgressions have sparked international backlash from European nations, which said in a joint statement last month that they remain "deeply concerned by Iran’s continued violations of its nuclear-related commitments, and recent escalations." The United States did not sign onto that statement but has expressed similar concerns about Tehran’s rush to enrich uranium and keep its nuclear sites secret.
This behavior has not been met with sanctions or any other punitive measures. The Biden administration has refrained from stoking tensions with Tehran as it pursues negotiations aimed at seeing the United States return to the nuclear deal, a move that would erase scores of sanctions on the Iranian government and give it access to much-needed hard currency. The Biden administration remains fully committed to negotiations with Iran—which have stalled since the election of Iran’s new hardline president and foreign minister—but also wants to see the country consent to nuclear inspections.
"We continue to call on Iran to provide the IAEA with the needed access immediately…. The United States has made clear that we are prepared to quickly reach and implement an understanding on a mutual return to full JCPOA compliance," the State Department official told the Free Beacon, referring to the nuclear deal by its official acronym. "Iran has stated that it shares the same goal."
"The access in question is necessary for the IAEA to preserve continuity of knowledge over JCPOA related nuclear activities, which would be important to quickly implement any understanding of a mutual return to JCPOA compliance," the State Department spokesman said.
Iran’s production of highly enriched uranium, a nuclear fuel that puts it a stone’s throw away from producing weapons-grade uranium, has jolted the international community, including European nations still party to the deal. France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, known as the E3, said in mid-September during an IAEA board meeting that Iran’s most recent nuclear moves can only be viewed as part of its weapons program. This includes Iran’s production of uranium metal, which is used as fuel for the core of a nuclear weapon.
"Iran has no plausible civilian reason for such activity, which provides weapons-applicable knowledge gain. Iran should halt the production of uranium metal immediately," the nations said.
Iran, meanwhile, continues to push the Biden administration into granting it sanctions relief as a show of goodwill before nuclear talks resume. U.S. Iran envoy Robert Malley held talks with his South Korean counterpart this week about Iran’s desire to secure around $7 billion in frozen assets. The United States would have to waive sanctions in order for the transaction to go through, and Iranian leaders have made clear they expect this outcome.
State Department spokesman Ned Price on Thursday emphasized the Biden administration’s desire for Iran to return to talks in Vienna but said the window for talks will not remain open indefinitely.
"We would like negotiations to resume in Vienna as soon as possible. We have been saying this not for weeks now, but for months now," Price told reporters. "This is not a process that can drag out or that can be dragged out."
Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said on Friday that his country is prepared to resume talks but that the United States must show its goodwill.
"We will not waste our time in negotiations," Amir-Abdollahian said in remarks carried by the country’s state-controlled press. "It is important for us to receive signals from the other side, including the United States, that the Americans have a strong intention to fully return to their commitments."
Advocacy organizations focused on nuclear proliferation are looking for the Biden administration and European nations to take punitive action against Iran.
United Against Nuclear Iran, a bipartisan advocacy group, said in a statement this week that the IAEA must respond to Iran’s provocative moves by adopting a formal resolution of disapproval. The IAEA should also mandate that Iran respond to its requests for access on a strict timeline, the group said, and if it does not, the matter should be referred to the United Nations Security Council for further action.