News Analysis: New UN nuclear watchdog chief has tightrope to walk: experts

Source: Xinhua| 2019-12-02 21:28:45|Editor: xuxin
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VIENNA, Dec. 2 (Xinhua) -- Argentine diplomat Rafael Grossi, the newly appointed chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is facing a tightrope on Iran nuclear issue, according to experts in arms control and non-proliferation.

"Grossi will need to walk a tightrope on Iran and other hotspot nuclear issues, particularly as the divide between the United States, the West, and the Russian Federation continues to grow, and the two sides are less and less keen on finding a compromise and negotiate on key nonproliferation issues," said Elena K. Sokova, executive director of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation, in an email to Xinhua.

She pointed out that the greatest challenge for the IAEA and Grossi is to be impartial in the assessment of Iran's compliance with the agreement and "report things to the board as they are," including any compliance concerns if they emerge.

"He will also need to be prepared to stand up to political pressure, which cannot be ruled out given the sensitivity of the case," said Sokova.

She was referring to the role that the IAEA plays in the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which has been on the verge of collapse since the United States withdrew from it unilaterally under President Donald Trump in May 2018.

The deal, reached in 2015 between Iran and a group of world powers, aims to curtail Iran's nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

Since the Trump administration exited it and tightened sanctions against Iran as part of its "maximum pressure" campaign to force the Gulf country back to the negotiating table over its nuclear and missiles programs, Iran began to reduce its commitments and regional tensions flared up.

European countries have so far refused to join the United States in pulling out of the deal and developed the INSTEX barter mechanism to circumvent U.S. sanctions against trade with Iran.

But Iran said the European Union has "not done enough" and threatens to take further steps away from the deal.

"Of course, it's a delicate tightrope to walk. The director general's actions rarely please everyone, and they're not supposed to," said Andreas Persbo, executive director of the London-based think tank Verification Research, Training and Information Centre, in an email to Xinhua.

The IAEA, according to Persbo, is supposed to deliver technical and impartial assessments of safeguards implementation and compliance.

"It's not a negotiating body," he said.

Grossi, talking to Russian think tank Valdai Discussion Club in September, said that it is not up to the IAEA to save or not to save the Iran nuclear deal.

The IAEA has "a very specific role to play," he said, "in the application of the verification measures that sustained these agreements or any other agreement."

"The agency is an instrument of the political decisions of states," he added.

Sokova agreed that the agency's role is to provide technical data in a "timely, accurate and impartial" manner to member states.

"It is up to the parties of the JCPOA to decide the future of the deal," she said.

She noted that Grossi has a good relationship and communication channels with the related countries, which "gives hope that he will be able to successfully play the balancing act and maintain neutrality of the IAEA."

Persbo also believes that Grossi will give a clear picture of the status of safeguards implementation in Iran and elsewhere.

"However, as a DG (director general) he serves all members, including Iran, so I don't expect him to push for a transformation of existing legal arrangements," he added.

Both experts said that Grossi has deep knowledge and understanding of the work of the IAEA when assuming the post, and his management style is more open and active.

"Proceeding from his prior engagement with the IAEA and member states, I believe we can expect a more energetic and transparent leadership," said Sokova. "He does not shy from discussing the most critical issues and from shaking things up."

Persbo predicted that Grossi would bring about gradual changes to the IAEA.

"I suspect he will try to succeed where others have failed, for instance, in trying to increase the languishing annual budget. There may also be other changes, such as appropriately empowering the organization's deputy director generals, reestablishing good relations with international media, as well as deepening collaborative relationships with trusted external actors," he said.

Sokova said that Grossi is the first IAEA director general representing Latin America.

She expected that under his leadership, the agency will be more open and transparent and more actively engaged in the dialogue with the member states across various political and geographical groupings.