US calls on Iran to ‘choose diplomacy’ as nuclear tensions build
WASHINGTON DC (Kurdistan 24) – US Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a statement on Thursday explaining the censure of Iran by the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The censure, as Blinken stated, was prompted by Iran’s violations of its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and was unrelated to the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which Donald Trump left in 2018 and which the Biden administration has been seeking to renew in talks over the past year.
Blinken affirmed that the US remained open to returning to the JCPOA and urged Iran “to choose diplomacy and de-escalation.”
Tehran, however, did not respond to that statement. Rather it is removing some 27 surveillance cameras from nuclear sites, prompting further alarm from Rafael Grossi, head of the IAEA, who warned that such action could doom prospects for any renewal of the JCPOA because the IAEA could lose track of the status of the various elements of Iran’s nuclear program.
Wednesday’s drone attack on the outskirts of Erbil, carried out by the Iranian-backed Iraqi militia, Kata’ib Hizbollah, occurred in the middle of that confrontation.
That raises the possibility that the drone attack was one part of Iran’s response to the IAEA’s censure: attacking an important regional partner to the US and the three other countries which sponsored that resolution.
Understanding Tehran’s NPT Violation and the US, European Response
On Wednesday, the IAEA formally submitted its latest report on Iran to its Board of Governors. The IAEA has found traces of uranium at three undeclared sites in Iran, but Tehran has failed to provide an explanation, raising the distinct possibility that it has conducted clandestine nuclear work, which it has kept hidden from the monitoring agency.
That was the reason for Wednesday’s censure, embodied in a resolution introduced by the US, France, Germany, and Britain. The 35-member governing board approved it overwhelmingly. Only Russia and China voted against it, while India, Libya, and Pakistan abstained.
As the four resolution sponsors said on Wednesday in a joint statement, “Today’s resolution affirms the Board’s support” for the IAEA’s efforts “to uphold the international safeguards system, which is essential to all of our security.”
“We urge Iran to heed the call of the international community to fulfill its legal obligations and cooperate with the IAEA to fully clarify and resolve issues without delay,” it stated.
Link to Drone Attack on Erbil?
That evening, Kata’ib Hezbollah attacked Erbil with an explosive drone. It landed near the consulate of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which, along with Saudi Arabia, has been particularly concerned about Iranian expansionism in the region.
The Associated Press, in a story on Thursday from Vienna about the Iranian nuclear confrontation, stated, “The crisis risks escalating further,” as AP noted, “on Wednesday night, a drone exploded” in Erbil, “wounding three people and damaging cars and a nearby restaurant.”
An informed Kurdish source told Kurdistan 24 that it was “quite plausible” that some link existed between the confrontation with Iran in the IAEA and the attack on Erbil—a major regional partner to the four sponsors of the censure resolution.
While noting it was always possible that Kata’ib Hizbollah had local motives for attacking Erbil, rooted in Iraqi politics and the long-delayed formation of a new government, Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Kurdistan 24 that such “strikes can also be ways to adjudicate political conflict, signal resolve to an adversary, or widen wars through proxy engagement on behalf of a foreign patron.”
“The widening of targeting and increased concentration of strikes in Iraqi Kurdistan is not to be ignored,” Ben Taleblu continued, as he noted, “It remains unclear what the threshold is for responding to such strikes in Iraq by both the Biden administration as well as other US partners.”
Late on Thursday, the Presidency of the Kurdistan Region issued a statement calling on “Iraqi authorities and the international community” more broadly “to make serious efforts to stop such attacks.”
If this hypothesis is correct—the confrontation within the IAEA over Iran’s nuclear program helped to precipitate the drone strike on Erbil—it would only underscore the legitimacy of the appeal from the Presidency of the Kurdistan Region.