Iran Nuclear Diplomacy Picks Up With Xi-Rouhani Call, IAEA Deal

38 Jonathan Tirone and Patrick Sykes

  • Chinese leader vows to support Iran on nuclear issues
  • Pact buys diplomats time to restore historic 2015 nuclear deal

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency at the headquarters in Vienna, on May 24.

Photographer: Alex Halada/AFP/Getty Images

International efforts to reach a breakthrough over the Iran nuclear accord kicked into higher gear as China’s president spoke with Iran’s leader and Tehran agreed to extend a key nuclear-monitoring pact with United Nations inspectors, buying more time for diplomacy.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke with President Xi Jinping on Monday, with the Chinese leader saying he’ll support Iran’s “reasonable demands” on nuclear issues, according to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV. The two leaders agreed to deepen ties in trade and energy, a key issue if a deal removes restrictions on Iran’s oil exports.

Separately, negotiators from the U.S., Iran and European parties to the 2015 nuclear deal are preparing to return to Vienna for talks this week aimed at reviving the accord with a key deadline pushed over the weekend into June, soon after national elections in Iran. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said getting a deal done is a priority.

“The first thing we need to do is put the nuclear problem back in the box,” Blinken said Sunday on “This Week” on ABC News, adding that an agreement would serve as a “platform” for addressing broader concerns about Tehran’s activities in the Mideast. “That’s why we’re committed to trying to see if Iran will come back into compliance with the nuclear agreement.”

Blinken may also find time to discuss the Iran talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who lobbied hard against the original deal and has called Tehran his country’s biggest threat, when he arrives in Tel Aviv for talks this week about the latest cease-fire with Hamas.

A last-minute compromise over the weekend with the International Atomic Energy Agency means Iran will continue storing camera data recorded at key atomic installations for one month, buying time for diplomacy.

‘Stopgap Measure’

“This temporary technical understanding is a stopgap measure,” IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said at a press briefing in Vienna. “It’s something we came up with as a way to avoid flying completely blind.”

Diplomats warned last week, after the fourth round of negotiations in Vienna, that failing to extend the monitoring agreement could have scuttled the fragile process that seeks to end a standoff between Tehran and Washington that has roiled oil markets and almost sparked a war between the two sides.

“We recommend the negotiating countries to seize the extra opportunity provided by Iran in good faith for the complete lifting of sanctions in a practical and verifiable manner,” Iran’s representative at the IAEA, Kazem Gharib Abadi, said in a tweet.

While oil markets are braced for an increase in Iranian supply, crude rallied above $64 a barrel after Iran’s Foreign Ministry said earlier on Monday that gaps remain in negotiations involving world powers around the sequencing and verification of sanctions removal.

Following the Iranian parliament’s decision last year to restrict some agency access, Tehran reached a temporary monitoring pact with Grossi in February that enabled recorded video material to be temporarily retained.

Erasing the material would jeopardize the continuity of inspectors’ knowledge of the nuclear program. Iran and the IAEA have been at loggerheads for months over an investigation into decades-old particles of man-made uranium discovered at undeclared sites. Grossi said he expects to publish an update of that probe next month.

Rouhani is eager to restore the nuclear accord and secure the removal of former President Donald Trump’s tough sanctions regime before he leaves office later this year. Reviving the nuclear deal would loosen restrictions on Iranian oil exports, the nation’s main source of foreign currency revenue.

— With assistance by Arsalan Shahla



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