Tehran, Iran – What would have been a routine visit by the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) became a public relations opportunity for the Iranian government.
Yukiya Amano was in Tehran on Sunday, his first visit since US President Donald Trump told Congress that Iran is not complying with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), more commonly known as the 2015 nuclear deal.
The IAEA chief put a positive face on proceedings, but the stakes are high. This time, his verification of compliance was a moment of vindication for Iran and another international rebuke of the White House.
“Ladies and gentleman, I am very happy to come to your country again,” Amano said during a press conference at Iran’s nuclear agency.
“Since January 2016, the IAEA has been monitoring and verifying the nuclear related commitments made by Iran under the JCPOA. The IAEA believes that the JCPOA is a significant gain for verification. The IAEA can state that the nuclear-related commitments made by Iran under the JCPOA are being implemented,” he added.
There was no ambiguity in his comments to journalists. There was even a message that sounded tailor-made for Trump.
“The most important thing is to be factual,” Amano said. “I have always been factual since I became director general of the IAEA. Sometimes I have to report bad news but I also report the good news. It is very important to stick to the rules and I will continue to do so.”
Before meeting with Amano, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani was speaking in an open session of parliament. He took the opportunity to slam the US and restate his country’s commitment to its own defence.
“You object to our weapons, we are going to manufacture and store any kind of weapons we need,” Rouhani said. “And this is to defend ourselves and the unity of our land and people. And we will not hesitate to use them in the appropriate time to defend ourselves.
“You know, that we have built, are building and will continue to build missiles, and this doesn’t violate international law or the international resolution (JCPOA). We will continue to reinforce our defence abilities and to defend our national security. And if there is any violation of the United States’s commitments, we will react strongly,” Rouhani said.
The White House has said Iran’s development of a missile programme is a threat to regional security and violates the spirit of the nuclear deal.
For Iran’s leaders, Amano’s visit was an opportunity to remind the world they have passed every nuclear inspection with flying colours.
“So far, eight times, the IAEA has released reports that state that Iran has met its commitments fully,” said Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Agency of Iran.
Salehi, Amano’s counterpart in Iran, also said demands by the Trump White House to inspect non-nuclear military facilities – something that was kept out of the original nuclear deal – are a waste of time.
“Military bases are not part of the deal … so it’s useless to talk about them,” he said.
The pressure to keep the peace is now on European shoulders.
“Americans are not implementing the nuclear deal, let’s be frank,” said Emad Abshenass, a Tehran-based political analyst. “[As long as] all the other countries stick by the nuclear deal, the nuclear deal is there.”
The IAEA chief reminded Iranians that his organisation will continue to monitor and verify the JCPOA “in an impartial and objective and stringent manner” – even Trump has struggled to criticise Iran’s technical compliance with the deal.
But the US’s current Iran policy has more to do with Iran’s emboldened role in the Middle East and less to do with dismantling the JCPOA.
While the nuclear deal opened the door for international banks and businesses to deal with Iran, the US is blocking the doorway. The threat of new sanctions from the US is having the same effect as actual sanctions.
“What happens is that most of the international companies, they don’t know what to do,” Abshenass said, adding: “They are afraid to invest or start implementing their agreements with Iran … so all of the agreements are on hold right now. They have signed the deals, they have signed the agreements but none of them is being implemented. Everyone is afraid of what might happen.”
Iranians say this is a violation of the agreement. And while Iran’s government would prefer to keep the nuclear deal intact, Tehran’s distrust of the US government is growing.
Salehi told journalists that if the nuclear deal were to fall apart because of US actions, it could put global non-proliferation into question. And in his speech to parliament, Rouhani said the Trump White House is not an honest broker.
“The US should abandon negotiations and treaties with the world given the path it has taken,” Rouhani said. “The administration of a country that violates the international obligations of the previous administration is not trustworthy.”