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Iran Censured by IAEA for Failing to Cooperate With Monitors

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(Bloomberg) -- Iran was censured Wednesday for its failure to cooperate with international nuclear investigators in a diplomatic motion that could escalate the Persian Gulf nation’s conflict with western nations.

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The resolution offered at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna by the US and its European allies demands that Iran clarify the source of uranium particles detected at several undeclared locations. It’s the first censure leveled against Iran under the Biden administration and comes as prospects dim for a return to the 2015 nuclear agreement that reined in the Islamic Republic’s nuclear work in exchange for sanctions relief.

Only China and Russia opposed the measure, with India, Pakistan and Libya abstaining, the Kremlin’s envoy said in a tweet. The rest of the IAEA’s 35-member board voted in favor.

The censure “expresses profound concern” and “calls upon Iran to act on an urgent basis to fulfill its legal obligations,” read the two-page document. Diplomats toned down language in the final resolution to win support, removing wording in earlier drafts that criticized Iran for “systemic insufficient cooperation.”

Before the vote was held, Iran moved to further restrict the information that international nuclear monitors can access by disabling cameras related to an Online Enrichment Monitoring system, according to state-run Islamic Republic News Agency. The IAEA had said those the cameras were installed at the Natanz enrichment plant, where Iran is preparing a major expansion in uranium-enrichment capacity.

“Reports that Iran plans to reduce transparency in response to this resolution are extremely regrettable and counterproductive to the diplomatic outcome we seek,” US Ambassador Laura Holgate said in a statement before the vote. “Restricting IAEA access and attempts to paint the IAEA as politicized for simply doing its job will serve no purpose. We do not seek escalation.”

The agency has repeatedly said that Iran’s explanation about the decades-old traces of uranium aren’t technically credible. IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi warned Tehran’s government on Monday that his investigation won’t go away until the matter is settled.

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said disabling the cameras was in response to the IAEA “taking Iran’s cooperation for granted,” IRNA reported. The so-called OLEM technology was developed by US laboratories and the IAEA in order to help account for Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium.

Earlier: Iran Warned Issues With IAEA Monitors ‘Will Not Go Away’

Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for the Iranian organization, said on state television that most of the IAEA’s cameras continue to operate, while leaving open the possibility of additional monitoring restrictions.

Disabling the cameras was a largely symbolic move ahead of the impending vote as Iran had already ceased providing agency monitors with data from the machines a year ago, as part of its gradual retraction of inspection powers granted under the 2015 agreement. But the move -- and any censure -- will further sour the mood around stalled attempts to resurrect the 2015 accord.

The 2015 accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, granted Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for limiting its atomic activities but has all but collapsed since then-President Donald Trump withdrew the US three years ago. Iran retaliated by expanding its enrichment work.

Even as President Joe Biden’s administration confirmed this week that it still sees a deal with Iran as the best-possible way to prevent the country from obtaining nuclear weapons, negotiations to reboot the deal have continued to founder since March. Since then, probabilities of agreement have diminished and rancor between Iran and western nations has increased.

“Something has got to give, and right now momentum is on the side of JCPOA spoilers,” said Ellie Geranmayeh, who directs Iran analysis at the European Council on Foreign Relations. “President Biden and Iran’s leadership must now find a political ladder to climb down unless they want to give a major victory to those who have sought escalation between Tehran and Washington.”

In a joint statement late Tuesday, France, Germany and the UK -- all participants in the accord -- said they were “deeply concerned about the continued nuclear advances,” which “risk unraveling the deal that we have so carefully crafted together.”

(Adds resolution in the fourth paragraph)

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