With Iranian Nuclear Deal In Limbo, Some Worry Inspectors Will Lose Access For Good Nuclear inspections have been a key part of the Iran nuclear deal. International inspectors stand to permanently lose access to key sites, unless the U.S. and Iran can find a way forward.

With Iranian Nuclear Deal In Limbo, Some Worry Inspectors Will Lose Access For Good

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NOEL KING, HOST:

After the Trump administration pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, it also imposed sanctions on Iran. Now Iran is saying if the U.S. doesn't lift those sanctions, it will stop allowing some inspections of its nuclear facilities. Here's NPR's Geoff Brumfiel.

GEOFF BRUMFIEL, BYLINE: For months, Iran has been slowly enriching more uranium, which can be used for nuclear reactors or potentially for weapons. It's also been testing new technologies. And it's doing all this in protest because after the U.S. pulled out, Iran never received the economic relief it was promised in exchange for ramping down its nuclear program. But until recently, there was one thing Iran wouldn't touch, according to Dina Esfandiary of the International Crisis Group. That was the nuclear inspections conducted by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

DINA ESFANDIARY: Iran tends to stay away from pestering the IAEA.

BRUMFIEL: Since the start of the deal, IAEA inspectors have fanned out across the entire nation, monitoring not just Iran's nuclear facilities, but its R&D and even the mines where it extracts natural uranium. Inspectors have collected reams of data that feed into reports on exactly what Iran is up to. But Iran ended its powerful inspection agreements last month. That was by order of the nation's conservative parliament, which passed a law saying some inspections must cease until the promised sanctions relief arrives.

ESFANDIARY: That was basically Iran's parliament's way of trying to regain control of the entire process because they were getting fed up.

BRUMFIEL: In late February, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi raced to Tehran to try and find a solution.

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RAFAEL GROSSI: Thank you for being here. And I'm sorry to keep you away from home on a chilly Sunday evening.

BRUMFIEL: Upon his return to Vienna, he gave a brief press conference.

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GROSSI: We got a reasonable result after what was a very, very intensive consultation negotiation with our Iranian counterparts.

BRUMFIEL: The exact agreement between Iran and the IAEA remains confidential, but Corey Hinderstein of the Nuclear Threat Initiative says the goal was to preserve data. Take, for example, cameras that monitor warehouses and workshops.

COREY HINDERSTEIN: The information would be stored in the camera or at the location, but nobody would look at those images.

BRUMFIEL: Normally, the IAEA would see this kind of information right away. But now, if you kind of think of Iran's nuclear program as a book...

HINDERSTEIN: What this is is basically tearing out the pages but putting them in a sealed envelope off to the side.

BRUMFIEL: The data will be held for up to three months. If by then Iran has received some economic benefits, it would be restored. But...

HINDERSTEIN: If there's no political arrangement, then that data would be dumped.

BRUMFIEL: And that would be a big problem, says Ellie Geranmayeh of the European Council on Foreign Relations, because to other countries, all that data inspectors have collected on Iran's program has been extremely valuable.

ELLIE GERANMAYEH: I think that inspection verification aspect of the deal has been the main reason why, for example, European countries to this agreement have stuck by the deal.

BRUMFIEL: Even as Iran has broken the limits it originally agreed to. Today, Iran is far closer to having a nuclear weapons capability than it was before the Trump administration left the deal, though it appears not to be pursuing that option for now. But if the U.S. and Iran can't revive the agreement and the cameras are shut off for good, it will become much harder to tell what Iran is up to.

Geoff Brumfiel, NPR News, Washington.

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