Iran Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi (L) with International Atomic Energy Agency Secretary General Rafael Grossi, Vienna, Austria, September 1, 2020

European nations have stepped back from a showdown over Iran’s threat to inspections of its nuclear facilities, in the hope that Tehran may agree to informal discussions about the 2015 agreement with the 5+1 Powers.

The UK, France, and Germany withdrew the US-backed plan for the International Atomic Energy Agency to criticize Iran over its recent limits on inspections.

Almost two weeks ago Tehran withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty’s Additional Protocol, having acceded to it alongside the July 2015 deal with the 5+1 Powers (US, UK, France, Germany, China, and Russia).

The step meant Iran can block snap inspections by the IAEA of its nuclear facilities. The Rouhani Government also said it will withhold surveillance videos for at least the next three months.

See also Iran to Proceed with Limits on Nuclear Inspections

The three European powers responded with the resolution for the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors at its quarterly meeting. The text called on Iran to answer the Agency’s questions about the origin of uranium particles recently found at several undeclared, apparently obsolete sites.

But just before the deadline for submission of the resolution, IAEA head Rafael Grossi announced a new diplomatic mission to get Iran’s cooperation:

We are trying to sit down around the table and see if we can resolve this once and for all.

We are going to be starting this process of focused analysis of the situation with a technical meeting which will take place in Iran at the beginning of April which I hope will be followed by other technical or political meetings.

Iranian officials, including Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, had threatened to withdraw the February accord with Grossi permitting monitoring over the next three months.

A “French diplomatic source” said the European countries believe they have Iranian concessions allowing Grossi to work on outstanding issues, as well as the prospect of a meeting between Iran, the US, and the rest of the 5+1 Powers.

“If we had gone through with the vote (on a resolution) it would have made it more difficult to quickly start this meeting,” the source said.

Earlier this week Iran rejected the European Union’s invitation to the informal discussion, seeking a US return to the deal after Donald Trump’s withdrawal in May 2018. However, the Biden Administration signalled that there might be a prospect of back-channel talks.

Foreign Minister Zarif gave no signal of such a possibility on Thursday. Instead, he used Twitter to reject any negotiations to revive the 2015 deal and called for the removal of veto power in the UN Security Council: