The IAEA: Unchanging Mission in a Changing World
Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall (Bolshaya Tatarskaya 42, Moscow, Russia)

Today, news releases are full of issues related to nuclear weapons and the nuclear programmes of particular countries, which presumably threaten not only their neighbours but the whole world. On September 10, the Valdai Discussion Club held a meeting with Rafael Grossi, an Argentinian diplomat and a candidate for the post of Director General of the IAEA, the organisation that controls nuclear proliferation and the overall military potential of nuclear technology. There, participants of the discussion touched upon both the “persistent” mission of the organisation and the current agenda.

For the time being, people from all over the world are following the political processes related to the nuclear programmes of Iran and North Korea. Amid this perilous situation, when the issues of nuclear technology and related weaponry have come to the fore again, the IAEA aims to keep the situation under control. According to the Valdai Club’s guest, “the agency is a platform created to develop standards of technical and physical safety for using nuclear power plants in a way that doesn’t threaten human life or the ecology. Today, some important changes are taking place in this field: nuclear technology not only feeds national energy, it is also significant in medicine and proper nutrition. Nuclear energy is important for developing countries around the world, whether they have weapons of that kind or not.”

In this regard, the speaker emphasised the complexity of the agency’s mission, which he compared with the two-faced god Janus. On the one hand, its goal is to control the production of nuclear weapons and create agreements and standards related to it: now, the danger that nuclear materials and technologies can fall into the wrong hands is higher than ever, and the IAEA’s responsibility is growing proportionally to it. On the other hand, its goal is to make “the peaceful atom” safe. “This control features three major components”, Grossi said. “This is safety for human lives, safety for the environment, and the promotion of nuclear technology as well. It is soft power, not hard. Everyone can cooperate, regardless of whether they have nuclear facilities or not.”

One of the most difficult issues in current international politics is the fate of the JCPOA, or the “Iranian nuclear deal”. Recently, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced a gradual withdrawal from the deal. Although there is a popular belief that the most important thing now is to “save” this deal at any price, Raphael Grossi emphasised that the IAEA’s structural role as a supervisor is more important than particular documents. “The IAEA occupies no place in the political spectrum and is not in the JCPOA. It verifies whether Iran is complying with its obligations, and do not decide whether the agreement will be preserved or replaced. It is only an indispensable verification tool. I would say that we must maintain the mandate,” the expert said.

Answering a question about the main points of his programme as a candidate for the post of IAEA Director General asked by one of the attendants, Rafael Grossi expressed confidence that essentially, the agency’s mission will remain unchanged and that now we need to keep on doing what we were doing and maintain the right pace. “If we live in an ideal world, I would describe what I will do in various departments or set some priorities. However, such dangers as nuclear terrorism or Iran require quick decisions, so the IAEA Board of Governors need them by the end of October. We cannot afford to get into a dead-end,” he stressed. “The general direction of the whole planet is abandoning nuclear weapons and obtaining peace, but this road is far from smooth. It has its ups and downs, but the IAEA plays and will play a leading role in any situation.”