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“Non-proliferation of nuclear weapons is a sovereign decision of a state” says head of IAEA

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“Non-proliferation of nuclear weapons is a sovereign decision of a state” says head of IAEA
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The International Atomic Energy Agency is the world's nuclear watchdog, and its role regarding the Iran nuclear deal that was signed in 2015 has grown ever more prominent since Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal in 2018.

To discuss this and more, The Global Conversation spoke to the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency is Rafael Mariano Rossi.

JACK PARROCK, Euronews: Since the killing of the Iranian general Qasam Soleimani, the Iranian government has said that it is now not obliged to uphold the five main criteria of the Iran nuclear deal. How dangerous is this?

RAFAEL MARIANO GROSSI: Well, I would say that the situation is rather unusual in that we continue our inspection activities in this regard. The cooperation of Iran as an inspected state has not been interrupted. We are there, our inspectors are there. They are carrying out their activities, which is very important. At the same time, what our inspectors have been verifying is the diminishing degree of compliance of the agreement in 2015.

JACK PARROCK: One of the things that Iran's foreign minister, Javad Zarif, has said is that these steps are reversible. Do you believe that nuclear activities are reversible? And what does reversible mean?

RAFAEL MARIANO GROSSI: Well, like you say, reversible is a subjective term. So what may be reversible for some might not be reversible for others. I believe that the value and the indispensable value of what we do is that we expose the facts.

JACK PARROCK: But are the facts of the matter that what they're doing can be reversed?

RAFAEL MARIANO GROSSI: Of course, a country can and enrich more. They can enrich less. They can move in this in this way. And we will simply inform about it.

JACK PARROCK: How far away is Iran from being a nuclear-armed state?

RAFAEL MARIANO GROSSI: Well, it's a matter of analyzing the capabilities, the technological capabilities Iran and many other states have. That is a reality. The important thing is that the agency is there verifying that the amounts, the quantities are those that have been agreed.

JACK PARROCK: But twelve hundred kilograms (according to Iran’s nuclear chief, Ali Asghar Zarean) enriched uranium is close to being nuclear-armed. No?

RAFAEL MARIANO GROSSI: It can be. But those amounts exist in other parts of the world as well. So it's a complex of issues, of a whole of issues. If things are verified, if our inspectors are there, if Iran observes the Additional Protocol to their comprehensive safeguards agreement. Of course, the international community will always have a prompt warning about any, I would say, concerning development.

JACK PARROCK: The Iran deal is looking on shaky ground now, though, with this activity, with the US pulling out. Do you think it can survive? How likely is it, do you think that the Iran deal can survive?

RAFAEL MARIANO GROSSI: That is in the realm of politics and the countries that will explain why they do what they do, or why they don't do what they do. But the realities on the ground, it's only the IAEA who can ascertain what's going on. At the end of the day, non-proliferation of nuclear weapon is a sovereign decision of a state. If a state decides to not proliferate, he can do it. The agency will be there to certify that.

JACK PARROCK: After France, Germany and the UK asserted that they would launch the dispute resolution mechanisms as part of the deal, they now decided to suspend the timeframe. What does that mean from your perspective and what does your agency do in the meantime while that time frame is suspended?

RAFAEL MARIANO GROSSI: We have to ensure the continuity of the inspection effort. Obviously, if there was any interruption, if there was any disruption in the work of our inspectors, quite clearly that dispute, which is to be resolved by this mechanism, would be much bigger than it is at the moment.

JACK PARROCK: US President Donald Trump had the summit with Kim Jong Un, the leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. But now relations are not looking so good. What's your assessment of the DPRK's nuclear ambitions?

RAFAEL MARIANO GROSSI: The IAEA was there for a long time until our inspectors were expelled from the country back more than 10 years ago. So it's been more than a decade without a continued on the ground presence for our inspectors. Does this mean that we have, you know, throw in the towel and interrupted our work? Absolutely not. We are analyzing constantly, information about what is going on and we are keeping our readiness for immediate deployment of our inspectors. When we began this complex relationship, North Korea was a country with ambitions, but without nuclear weapons. Now they are a nuclear weapons state with a confirmed arsenal. So the whole situation is politically, technologically, different. So I think in terms of ambitions, I would say maybe we should stop talking about ambitions. They are a nuclear weapons state. So we try, we need to try to roll this back. We need to try to make it as stable as possible.

JACK PARROCK: But the US president has proved himself to like to do things himself and not through international organizations like your own. Do you think that he sees your value as an agency in going into the DPRK? Or do you think he would want American inspectors going in?

RAFAEL MARIANO GROSSI: Well, I believe that when it comes to an agreement, if there is an agreement with the DPRK, I'm persuaded, I'm convinced that this agency, he will have an indispensable role.

JACK PARROCK: How worried are you about the potential for non-state actors to be able to in the future, potentially get their hands on nuclear weapons?

RAFAEL MARIANO GROSSI: It is a concern. The amount of nuclear material and by nuclear material, I don't mean nuclear weapons, I mean uranium, enriched uranium or even material that is in health facilities around the world is growing, which is good. But of course, this is also a magnet for groups, terrorists, that can, you know, have access to this material. I wouldn't even say to make nuclear weapons simply to have a radiological incident, a dirty bomb, as you know. So all of these possibilities do exist.

To watch the full interview please click on the player above.