File photo: An Iranian security official in protective clothing walks through part of the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the Iranian city of Isfahan. Image Credit: AP

The role of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is to provide oversight to nuclear facilities and ensure that they indeed are functioning as they should, that agreements and production of nuclear materials, along with all of the strict technical and the frameworks of regulations and administration are functioning as they should and, above all, ensuring that transparency is paramount.

For Iran, which has long held the ambition of using the power of the atom for its own ends, working closely with the IAEA and its inspectorate is a prerequisite and not an optional extra. If the regime in Tehran wants to pursue its ambitions towards becoming a producer of nuclear energy, then full engagement with the IAEA needs to be a centrepiece of that programme. Membership of a club has rules — and those rules apply to all. And transparency is fundamental. The alternative approach is one that sows suspicion and certainly would add credence to concerns harboured by critics of Iran for its failure to engage fully with the IAEA.

In recent months, Tehran has gradually escalated its enrichment programme, increasing the grade of plutonium from its centrifugal facilities while taking an increasingly hardline with the IAEA. Because of that, France, the UK and German had planned to censure Iran at this week’s board meeting of the IAEA. The three European nations had the backing of the US.

On Thursday evening, the move to censure was put on hold while diplomatic moves were made in the background between Tehran and the leadership of the IAEA. Iran, reports say, has agreed to hold a series of meetings that will seek to clarify a number of outstanding issues. Tehran has welcomed the postponement of the censure resolution.

As things stand now, the next board meeting of the IAEA is scheduled for June, and diplomats say the intervening time frame allows Tehran to satisfy international concerns. Should it not, then that resolution of censure can be brought forward once more, with appropriate punitive measures to follow suit.

Make no mistake, Iran’s track record is not one that inspires confidence nor places much currency in the values of transparency, inspection and verification. But transparency, inspection and verification are the minimum the IAEA would require. Anything else from Tehran, such as non-compliance, playing for time or placing obstacles in the way of what’s needed, is unacceptable.