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Nuclear Watchdog Keeps Iran Talks Alive With Last-Minute Deal

The last-minute deal helps Iran avoid IAEA censure, which would have put stalled Vienna talks in greater jeopardy.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
International Atomic Energy Agency director-general Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks to the media.
International Atomic Energy Agency director-general Rafael Mariano Grossi (center) addresses the media after his arrival at Vienna International Airport in Vienna on Sept. 12. ALEX HALADA/AFP

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The IAEA and Iran reach a monitoring agreement, North Korea tests a new missile, and Norway goes to the polls. 

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Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The IAEA and Iran reach a monitoring agreement, North Korea tests a new missile, and Norway goes to the polls. 

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.

IAEA Grasps Last-Minute Iran Agreement

The world’s nuclear watchdog headed off the potential collapse of nuclear talks in Vienna between world powers and Iran on Sunday as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reached a last-minute monitoring deal with Tehran.

By agreeing to allow the IAEA to service damaged cameras at one of its nuclear sites, Iran helps the agency bridge a gap in its monitoring capabilities and avoids an official censure from Western powers. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi had threatened to disrupt international negotiations in Vienna if the IAEA took the disciplinary measure.

That’s not to say the IAEA is happy with Iran’s nuclear activities. On top of complaints over the status of monitoring equipment, a leaked report to member states last week said Iran had continued to increase its stock of enriched uranium, which is now 10 times higher than the limits set by the 2015 agreement.

The resolution is unlikely to be enough for the United States, as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken reiterated concerns last week over perceived Iranian foot-dragging on nuclear talks. “We are getting closer to the point at which a strict return to compliance with the JCPOA does not reproduce the benefits that agreement achieved,” Blinken said.

Mirror images. Sunday’s episode is a repeat of a similar standoff in March, when the threat of censure at the IAEA’s Board of Governors was imminent—only for Iran to agree to a compromise monitoring agreement all sides could accept. Sunday’s agreement came hours before today’s governors meeting in Vienna and suggests that talks to return to the 2015 agreement are not finished yet.

New faces. If talks do resume, diplomats in Vienna may be met with a new lead Iranian negotiator. A report from Middle East news site suggests Ali Bagheri-Kani, a noted critic of the 2015 deal, could soon be named deputy foreign minister. If Raisi decides to keep the same structure for his negotiating team, Bagheri-Kanis appointment will likely mean the demotion of Iranian diplomat Abbas Araghchi, who has been the face of Iran’s efforts in Vienna up until now.

The World This Week

On Monday, Sept. 13, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies before the House Foreign Affairs Committee on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, Sept. 14, the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba officially expires, although it is expected to be renewed.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visits South Korea.

The 76th meeting of the U.N. General Assembly opens in New York.

Wednesday, Sept. 15 marks one month since the Afghan government fell following the departure of then-Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

On Thursday, Sept. 16, French President Emmanuel Macron holds talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Joint military exercises between Russia and Belarus end.

The Bahamas holds a general election for its 38-member House of Assembly.

Tajikistan hosts the Shanghai Cooperation Organization leaders summit. New Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi is expected to attend.

On Friday, Sept. 17, the mandate for the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan expires, although the U.N. Security Council is expected to adopt a new one.

On Sunday, Sept. 19, the final live leaders debate before Germany’s Sept. 26 election takes place.

Russia holds legislative elections for its 450-member State Duma.

What We’re Following Today

Norway’s election. Today marks the final day of voting in Norway’s parliamentary election and ends a political campaign dominated by climate change and wealth inequality. Polls predict that left-wing parties should win a majority of seats, which could spell the end of Erna Solberg’s nearly eight-year tenure as prime minister.

North Koreas latest test. North Korea successfully tested new long-range cruise missiles over the weekend, state media reported, calling them a “strategic weapon of great significance.” This is the second missile test North Korea has conducted this year after it tested short-range ballistic missiles in March. The test adds urgency to meetings this week in Japan between U.S. envoy for North Korea Sung Kim and his South Korean and Japanese counterparts. 

The U.S. Senate returns. The U.S. Senate reconvenes today following its August recess, with U.S. President Joe Biden’s signature agenda item, a $3.5 trillion spending plan that would expand the social safety net and invest billions of dollars in climate programs, still facing roadblocks. Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, a key vote in a divided Senate, spoke out on Sunday against the level of spending and suggested lawmakers adopt a slower approach than the Sept. 27 deadline advocated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Keep an Eye On

U.S.-Saudi relations. The FBI on Saturday released a declassified (but still redacted) section of a 2016 investigation into alleged Saudi government involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, following an order from Biden to declassify more records related to the attacks. Families of the victims of the attacks welcomed the release, calling it “well past time for the [Saudi] Kingdom to own up to its officials’ roles in murdering thousands on American soil.” The Saudi embassy in Washington has taken the opposite tack, saying last week that any implication of government complicity in the attacks was “categorically false.”

France’s presidential election. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo announced her candidacy for the 2022 French presidential election on Sunday, joining a field dominated by incumbent Emmanuel Macron and right-wing challenger Marine Le Pen. Hidalgo has few serious challengers in securing the Socialist Party’s nomination but faces an unconvinced public: Recent polls suggest she has the support of only 8 percent of the French electorate.

Germany’s election. A snap poll following Sunday night’s live television debate named Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader Olaf Scholz as the convincing winner, adding further momentum to his bid to become German chancellor after the Sept. 26 election. Armin Laschet, whose Christian Democratic Union trails Scholz’s SPD in polls, attempted to portray a vote for Scholz as a vote for a coalition with the far-left Die Linke, which opposes NATO and has soft euro-skeptic leanings. Scholz did not rule out a coalition with Die Linke but said, “an acknowledgement of transatlantic relations, NATO, and the European Union are necessary for a good government.”

Odds and Ends

A 54-year-old British man has been released from police custody in The Hague after he was arrested at gunpoint by Dutch officers who believed they had caught a Sicilian mafia boss. Dutch authorities made the stop while executing an international arrest warrant issued by Italy for Matteo Messina Denaro, a mafia boss who has evaded capture since 1993.

The British man, named Mark L by his lawyer, was whisked away from a local restaurant to Vught maximum security prison after his arrest. It was then up to his lawyer to plead the case of mistaken identity, which was soon accepted.

Dutch authorities have sought to shift the blame for the botched case onto the Italian side. “If they say arrest this person, we arrest that person. Thats the mutual agreement we have with them,” an official told Dutch broadcaster NOS.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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