“While there have been some travel disruptions due to the outbreak, the IAEA continues to carry out its safeguards activities in Iran and elsewhere,” an IAEA spokesman said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency is continuously monitoring the situation regarding the coronavirus pandemic, but “will not stop for a single minute” regarding its inspections of nuclear material in Iran or elsewhere, the agency told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
The not stopping “for a single minute” quote was also noted by IAEA director-general Rafael Mariano Grossi last week as the agency closed its physical doors and switched into remote operations mode.
However, on Wednesday, an IAEA agency spokesman added to the Post that “while there have been some travel disruptions due to the outbreak, the IAEA continues to carry out its safeguards activities in Iran and elsewhere, ensuring the effective implementation of its mandate while also taking appropriate steps to protect the safety of staff.”
Iran has been the third-hardest-hit country in the world in respect to the coronavirus, with 1,135 deaths and over 16,000 persons infected, according to the official Iranian numbers, which are viewed by most outside experts as unrealistically low.
Travel, movement and coordination in Iran have been massively disrupted by the crisis, which has left no one untouched, including top Iranian officials.
Considering the chaos in Iran, the Post questioned the IAEA about how the coronavirus has impacted its ability to monitor Iran’s nuclear program.
While aspects of IAEA monitoring are electronic, other aspects must be done in person.
The Post further asked the IAEA to specify the challenges it was encountering in maintaining physical inspections in Iran, how it was overcoming the challenges and where its efforts might be falling short.
IAEA monitoring of Iran recently revealed that the Islamic Republic has significantly exceeded the amount of low-enriched uranium needed to make a nuclear bomb – should it decide to start enriching to higher levels.
The IAEA did not reply directly to all of these issues, though it did note travel challenges and said that it was successfully overcoming obstacles to maintain physical access to nuclear sites where necessary.
Last week, Grossi, who is much more comfortable performing public relations functions than his quiet predecessor Yukiya Amano, addressed the broader coronavirus challenge in detail.
He said, “The coronavirus is putting an enormous challenge in front of everybody. The IAEA is no exception,” but in another message said, “IAEA operations are expected to continue with minimal disruption under these extraordinary circumstances.”
Grossi’s message to his staff was, “I count on your full support to effectively deliver on the core functions of your positions. We have this obligation towards member states.”
The Vienna International Center, where the IAEA is located, normally has around 5,000 staff persons from 125 countries, but will be closed until at least April 3 on recommendation by the Austrian host government.