The Trump effect? IAEA chief quits over Iran nuclear deal nix

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The IAEA chief of inspections, Tero Varjoranta, announced his resignation three days after the United States had abandoned the nuclear deal with Iran. The official did not provide any reason for his departure.

Varjoranta was serving as the head of the agency’s Safeguards Department to determine if the countries that are part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) comply with the agreement.

The Finnish official took office in October 2013 and was also deputy director-general of the IAEA. During his tenure, he repeatedly affirmed Iran’s compliance with the important nuclear agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The deal, which was closed between five UN Security Council members, Germany and Iran, was dealt a major blow on Tuesday when US President Donald Trump, who criticized the agreement, announced the withdrawal of Washington and the restoration of economic sanctions against Iran.

Varjoranta was temporarily replaced by the acting director of the Agency’s Bureau of Verification in Iran, Massimo Aparo, with the IAEA spokesman stating that “the agency’s safeguards activities will continue to be carried out in a highly professional manner.”

Asked about the cause of Varjoranta’s abrupt resignation, the official said that “the agency cannot comment on personal matters, which are confidential.”

The day after Trump’s decision, which drew condemnation from US allies and even his own party, the IAEA again reaffirmed that Iran was fulfilling its nuclear commitments, which limit its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions.

Iran, like all other signatories to the pact, has vowed to keep its clauses pending in future negotiations.

New composition possible?

After leaving the United States, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini stressed that the UN nuclear agency is “the only impartial international organization to monitor Iran’s nuclear commitments.” This includes examining claims by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Iran has an active and clandestine nuclear weapons program.

Washington, on the other hand, immediately supported Netanyahu’s PowerPoint presentation. He stated that the presentation “provides new and convincing details” of Iran’s alleged nuclear activities and is “consistent with what the United States has known for a long time.”

The IAEA has “done a very good job” with its full inspections at Iran’s nuclear facilities and a “one- or two-person exchange” even in its senior leadership will not affect its operations, Peter Galbraith, the former US ambassador in Croatia and author of several books on the Middle East, said.

Aparo’s appointment is “quite normal,” since he was one of the top subordinates of the resigned position that dealt with an important portfolio, he said. Galbraith also denied the chances of a new agreement between Iran and the US, arguing that the US withdrawal puts Iran “in a position basically to call for better implementation of this original agreement” in particular in Europe, as the remaining signatories want Iran to stay in it.

“The end result will be a better deal for Iran,” while the “Americans will not have a voice,” he noted.

Kaveh Afrasiabi, a former adviser to Iran’s nuclear negotiation team, noted in commenting on the reform that “there is a history of threatening powers trying to influence the IAEA.” However, the appointment of Aparo, who has local experience in Iran, may be better.

“The fact that you have a deputy acting director in Iran and now be able to go to Moscow together with the head of the IAEA [Yukiya] Amano, who has a meeting with President [Russian Vladimir] Putin on Monday to talk about the Iran and all the necessary commitments and details – this is very important,” he continued.

Afrasiabi said a new deal is not at stake, as Trump “burned the bridge with Iran” and has “zero credibility with the Iranian people.”

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