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Iran Faces Censure From U.N. Nuclear Watchdog

The IAEA’s Board of Governors held off from a formal rebuke last year, so what’s changed?

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
Rafael Grossi addresses the media.
Rafael Grossi addresses the media.
Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Grossi addresses the media after his arrival at Vienna International Airport in Schwechat, Austria, on March 5. ALEX HALADA/AFP via Getty Images

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, looking at Iran’s nuclear program, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s political future, a terrorist attack in Nigeria, and more news worth following from around the world.

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Iran Prepares for IAEA Showdown

Welcome to today’s Morning Brief, looking at Iran’s nuclear program, British Prime Minister Boris Johnsons political future, a terrorist attack in Nigeria, and more news worth following from around the world.

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


Iran Prepares for IAEA Showdown

The Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meets today in Vienna, with tensions high at the U.N. watchdog over lingering questions surrounding Iran’s nuclear program.

The United States and the three European members of the board—France, Germany, and the United Kingdom—are expected to introduce a resolution to issue Iran with a formal rebuke, something it has only done once since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed in 2015.

Today, Western powers are concerned that Iran is not cooperating closely enough with IAEA inspectors and has not provided satisfactory answers when questioned on uranium traces found at three undeclared sites.

Faced with a similar situation last year, the IAEA’s Western board members decided against a censure, so what’s changed?

“Last year, the can was kicked down the road multiple times, and the reason was that there was hope that the JCPOA could be restored,” Ali Vaez, Iran project director at the International Crisis Group, told Foreign Policy. “Now, with the momentum completely lost and the mood that has significantly soured in the past three months, there is less to lose.”

It’s also a matter of reputation for an agency charged with tracking the world’s nuclear material, Vaez said: “Iran had an agreement with the IAEA back in March to resolve these issues until the June board meeting, and it has failed to do so. And so if the board does not take action right now, it basically undermines its own credibility.”

Russia and China have warned against passing the resolution, saying it risks damaging the already shaky chances of renewing the 2015 nuclear agreement. Russia’s representative in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, has called the resolution “senseless,” saying it would needlessly worsen relations between the IAEA and Tehran.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian warned against making any “confrontational moves,” saying they “undermine cooperation between Iran and the agency and disrupt the negotiation process.”

Unsurprisingly, Iran has also warned against it, with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian vowing an unspecified “proportionate, effective, and immediate response” to any rebuke.

Vaez holds out hope that despite the freeze in negotiations, a strong Iranian response—particularly ramping up its enrichment activities—might, paradoxically, speed efforts to reach a deal. “If there is a crisis as a result of the censure, it might actually jolt the parties out of the current state of limbo,” Vaez said.

The showdown comes as Iran is closer than ever to developing the fissile material necessary for a nuclear weapon. (As FP reported in January, enriching the uranium is just the first step to actually making a deliverable weapon.) Last month, the IAEA reported that Iran’s stockpile of 60 percent enriched uranium had now reached 43.3 kilograms, meaning a jump to 90 percent enriched uranium—weapons grade—could be only weeks away.

Iran’s oil. It also comes as the Biden administration may need Iran more than ever as it tries to convince oil producers to increase production in a bid to lower prices. It’s already provided an olive branch to Venezuela, easing sanctions, ostensibly to encourage opposition talks, and it will soon allow two European energy firms to start shipping Venezuelan oil to Europe.

Iran’s oil may yet flow regardless of whether the nuclear deal is revived, with Mike Muller, head of Asia at Vitol, a major oil trader, saying the United States may choose to turn “a somewhat greater blind eye” to Iran’s illicit oil exports if gas prices stay high approaching the U.S. midterm elections.

Where the oil might go is unclear, said Esfandyar Batmanghelidj of the Bourse & Bazaar Foundation, who has pointed out that Western sanctions mean that Russia and Iran are now in direct competition for Chinese contracts—with Russia able to offer a steeper discount.

Israel’s options. While major powers are set to debate in Vienna, Israel, which has its own stockpile of undeclared nuclear weapons, has showed it is happy to take matters into its own hands to prevent Iran from getting close to one.

The assassination in late May of Sayad Khodayee, a colonel in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), is believed to have been carried out by Israel and comes at a time when the U.S. designation of the IRGC as a terrorist organization remains a major sticking point in negotiations between the United States and Iran.

Following a meeting with IAEA chief Rafael Grossi last week, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett issued a statement saying his government “prefers diplomacy in order to deny Iran the possibility of developing nuclear weapons” but “reserves the right to self-defense and action against Iran to stop its nuclear program if the international community fails to do so within the relevant time frame.”


The World This Week

Tuesday, June 7: U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin departs for Singapore and Thailand.

Wednesday, June 8: U.S. President Joe Biden hosts the leaders section of the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visits his Turkish counterpart, Mevlut Cavusoglu, in Ankara, Turkey.

Thursday, June 9: The European Central Bank announces its decision to raise, lower, or maintain interest rates.

Friday, June 10: Romania hosts the other leaders of the Bucharest Nine: Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Slovakia.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies Shangri-La security dialogue begins in Singapore.

Sunday, June 12: France holds its first round of parliamentary elections.


What We’re Following Today

Bangladesh burns. Emergency workers continue to battle a blaze at a container depot in Sitakunda, Bangladesh, after massive explosions on Saturday killed at least 49 people and injured more than 200 people.

It’s not yet clear what caused the initial blaze, but fire service officials have suggested that a container of hydrogen peroxide may have been at fault.

Massacre in Nigeria. Dozens of people have been killed by in Nigeria’s southwestern Ondo state after gunmen attacked a church on Sunday. Officials have yet to release an official death toll, but at least 50 people are believed to have been killed. Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has condemned the “heinous killing of worshippers” as a “dastardly act.” No group has claimed responsibility.

Kyiv under attack. On Sunday, Russian missiles struck the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, for the first time in more than a month. Russia and Ukraine have both claimed different targets were hit: Russia said it targeted newly delivered tanks, whereas Ukraine said a rail car repair works was hit.

Tunisia’s judges strike. Judges across Tunisia will take part in a one-week strike, starting today, to protest Tunisian President Kais Saied’s unilateral dismissal of 57 judges last week. The action comes as other Tunisian groups plan to show their opposition to Saied’s rule, with the powerful Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) union planning a nationwide strike on June 16.

Writing in Foreign Policy last week, Simon Speakman Cordall outlined why Saied needs the UGTT if he wants to change the country.

The BJPs Islam problem. India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has issued a formal apology after two of its spokespersons made Islamophobic remarks over the weekend. Several majority Muslim countries have summoned their Indian ambassadors in response while a #BoycottIndia social media trend prompted shops in Persian Gulf nations to remove Indian products from shelves.


Keep an Eye On

Boris Johnsons political future. Britains Conservative Party has forced a no-confidence vote on the prime ministers leadership after 54 Tory members of Parliament submitted letters to the so-called 1922 Committee, passing the required threshold and setting up a secret ballot on Johnsons future to be held Monday evening.

If more than 50 percent of Tory members of Parliament (or 180 members) vote against Johnson, it will trigger a leadership race within the party to replace him; if he receives the backing of 50 percent or more, he can serve for one more year before facing another challenge under current party rules.

Estonia’s government. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas is working to cobble together a new coalition government after she moved to dismiss ministers from the Estonian Centre Party on Friday, accusing the party of “actively working against Estonia’s core values”—a statement believed to have been a swipe at the Centre Party’s ties with Russia.

China-Australia tensions. Australian defense officials have complained that a Chinese fighter jet executed a “dangerous maneuver” late last month when intercepting an Australian surveillance plane undertaking “routine maritime surveillance activity” in international airspace. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has said his government has made “appropriate representations to the Chinese government expressing our concern.”


FP Live

Today at 11 a.m. ET, join FP editor in chief Ravi Agrawal in conversation with Anders Fogh Rasmussen—a former NATO secretary-general and former Danish prime minister—on the future of NATO and democracy’s global challenges. Register here.


Odds and Ends

More classified military information, this time of a Chinese tank munition, has been leaked in the online forum of the War Thunder video game. The schematics for a tank killing round, the DTC10-125, is believed to have been posted by a Chinese tank crew member to win an argument with other users of the tank combat game.

Such unsanctioned one-uppery has happened not just once but twice before, with the classified details of Britain’s Challenger 2 tank and the French LeClerc main battle tank both divulged by disgruntled users in 2021.

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

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