Iran threatens to block snap nuclear inspections

Iran said on Monday that it could block some inspections of its nuclear sites in a move that would further complicate Washington’s hopes of reviving the 2015 nuclear accord with global powers.

The Islamic republic would stop snap visits by the International Atomic Energy Agency of its nuclear sites unless the US lifted sanctions, an official in Tehran said. Iran argues that these additional inspections are voluntary and its hardline parliament has set a February 21 deadline for President Hassan Rouhani’s government to halt compliance.

“If the other side [US] fails to carry out its commitments [under the nuclear accord], the government will definitely be obliged to abide by the parliament-approved law and stop voluntary implementation of the additional protocol,” Saeed Khatibzadeh, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman said at a press conference. Iran insists these additional visits are merely a voluntary move and a goodwill gesture.

“This is not going to take time. On the deadline, it [a snap inspection] can immediately stop,” Khatibzadeh added. “This, however, does not mean all inspections will stop. Iran is a member of the IAEA Safeguards and will allow a significant part of these inspections to continue.”

Donald Trump pulled the US out of the nuclear deal in 2018, imposing tough sanctions on the republic as his administration sought to secure a new deal that included Iran’s regional and military policies. President Joe Biden, however, has expressed willingness to go back to the nuclear deal, provided Iran also returns to full compliance.

Iran says the US should return to the nuclear deal unconditionally but Biden’s team have said Iran should first fully comply it.

Over the past year, Iran has rolled back most of its commitments under the terms of the accord. In January, the country began to enrich uranium up to a purity of about 20 per cent, a further breach of the agreement. This brings it closer to being able to produce weapons-grade uranium, which requires 90 per cent purity. Iran denies any intention of making a bomb. 

The nuclear deal was Rouhani’s signature achievement and some hardliners are suspected of wanting to block a swift return to it for fear of energising the chances of moderate candidates in June’s presidential elections. Rouhani is due to step down after two terms in office.

Khatibzadeh added that Iran’s new measures were not meant to put an end to the nuclear deal and added they could “easily be reversed provided other sides all meet their commitments”.

Abbas Araghchi, a deputy foreign minister, said last week that small measures by the Biden administration — such as issuing waivers for Iran’s oil sales — were not enough to convince Iran to fully comply with the deal.

“The important thing is that our crude should be sold and problems related to its transportation and insurance and all other side issues should be resolved. The oil should be received by customers and the money should be sent to us through the banking system,” he said. “This is what lifting of sanctions means.” 

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