Pictured: A uranium conversion facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, used as part of the regime's uranium enrichment process. (Photo by Getty Images)
Iran's belated offer to allow United Nations nuclear inspectors to visit two controversial nuclear sites should be seen as nothing more than a stunt to get the international ban on arms sales to Tehran lifted.
Washington is fighting attempts by the UN Security Council to lift the arms embargo on Iran, a document that dates back to 2007, and comes up for renewal next month.
This effort has prompted Iran to launch a diplomatic offensive to have the arms embargo lifted, a move that would allow Tehran to increase its ability to supply arms to terror groups such as Hizbollah and Hamas, as well as the Houthi rebels in Yemen fighting US-backed coalition forces.
As part of the Iranian campaign, Tehran has reached a deal with the UN-sponsored International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Vienna-based organization responsible for monitoring global nuclear issues, to allow inspectors to visit two controversial sites that are suspected of being part of Iran's controversial nuclear programme.
The IAEA has been in a dispute with Iran over Tehran's refusal to allow inspectors to visit the sites following suspicions that they have been involved in activity related to Iran's nuclear programme that has not been declared to the UN body.
Israeli intelligence officials have since identified one of the sites as the Abadeh Nuclear Weapons Development Site, and claim that experiments using conventional explosives are believed to have been conducted there. When inspectors demanded access last year, satellite photographs showed that some buildings had been razed to the ground.
The stand-off between Tehran and the IAEA over the sites, together with disputes over other unresolved issues, prompted the organisation to take the unprecedented step of publishing a special report in March about the unanswered questions that remained about Iran's nuclear activities, and the lack of cooperation inspectors had received from Tehran.
This was followed in June when the IAEA's Board of Governors, led by the US and the European signatories to the deal, Britain, France and Germany, issued a rare condemnation of Iran for stonewalling its nuclear inspectors, and called on the country to allow the agency access to two undeclared sites. The resolution was the first time the organisation had formally criticised the Islamic Republic since 2012.
Now, in an attempt to improve its standing with the UN, Iran has negotiated a deal with Rafael Grossi, the recently-appointed director general of the IAEA, to allow inspectors to visit the sites, a move Tehran believes will help to persuade the UN to lift the arms embargo.
"Iran is desperate to get the arms embargo lifted at the UN, and so has decided to cooperate with the IAEA to improve relations with the UN," a senior Western diplomat familiar with the negotiations, but who asked not to be named, told me. "Tehran believes that if it cooperates with the UN, there is a greater possibility that the arms embargo will not be renewed."
Critics of the deal argue that the agreement is simply a ploy by Iran to improve relations with the IAEA at a critical juncture, and that Iran has no real intention of complying with the IAEA's inspection teams. Iran has previously prevented IAEA inspectors from visiting sensitive nuclear sites, an action that resulted in the imposition of the arms embargo in the first place.
The key issue now is whether Iran's agreement with the IAEA will pave the way for ending the arms embargo, which is due to expire on October 18.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has already announced that Washington intends to implement a "snapback" option to prevent the embargo being lifted, and US President Donald Trump is expected to raise the issue when he addresses the UN General Assembly later this month.
Washington's attempts to have the arms embargo extended beyond October are certainly being followed closely in the Middle East.
As a senior Gulf official, who also asked not to be named, told me earlier this week, lifting the ban would simply allow Iran to continue arming terror groups in the Middle East. "If the ban is lifted, then we are going to see a lot more bloodshed in the region," the official warned.
Con Coughlin is the Telegraph's Defence and Foreign Affairs Editor and a Distinguished Senior Fellow at Gatestone Institute.