Iran’s decision to end snap inspections by UN inspectors on Feb. 23 would not mean abandoning its 2015 nuclear deal, but the United States must still lift sanctions on Tehran to rescue the pact, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Sunday.
“All our steps (to breach the deal) are reversible...The move on Feb. 23 is not abandoning the deal,” Zarif said in a televised interview with Iran’s English Language Press TV.
Under a law enacted by hardline Iranian lawmakers last year, the government is obliged on Feb. 23 to limit IAEA inspections to declared nuclear sites only, revoking its short-notice access to any location seen as relevant for information-gathering, if other parties did not fully comply with the deal.
President Joe Biden’s administration said on Thursday it was ready to talk to Iran about both nations returning to the accord, which aimed to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons while lifting most international sanctions. Former President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the accord in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Iran.
But Iran and the United States have been at odds over who should take the first step to revive the accord. Iran insists the United States must first lift US sanctions while Washington says Tehran must first return to compliance with the deal.
Zarif reiterated Iran’s stance that Washington should take the first step by lifting all sanctions, if it wants to revive the accord.
“The United States must return to the deal and lift all sanctions ... The United States is addicted to sanctions but they should know that Iran will not yield to pressure,” he said. “We are not seeking nuclear weapons.”
Zarif also said that “for all practical purposes” the Biden administration is pursuing the same policy of “maximum pressure” as Trump.
Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency who is in Tehran to discuss the agency’s “essential verification activities” met on Sunday with Iran´s atomic chief, state media reported.
Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said on Saturday that the agency’s concerns over Iran’s ending the implementation of the IAEA’s Additional Protocol - which entails snap inspections - will be discussed during his meeting with Grossi.
No access to cameras
Zarif, who under President Hassan Rouhani helped reach the nuclear deal, said the cameras of the IAEA would be shut off despite Grossi's visit.
“This is not a deadline for the world. This is not an ultimatum,” Zarif said. “This is an internal domestic issue between the parliament and the government.”
“We have a democracy. We are supposed to implement the laws of the country. And the parliament adopted legislation — whether we like it or not.”
Zarif's comments marked the highest-level acknowledgement yet of what Iran planned to do when it stopped following the so-called “Additional Protocol,” a confidential agreement between Tehran and the IAEA reached as part of the nuclear deal. The IAEA has additional protocols with a number of countries it monitors.
Under the protocol with Iran, the IAEA “collects and analyzes hundreds of thousands of images captured daily by its sophisticated surveillance cameras,” the agency said in 2017. The agency also said then that it had placed “2,000 tamper-proof seals on nuclear material and equipment.”
In his interview, Zarif said authorities would be “required by law not to provide the tapes of those cameras.” It wasn't immediately clear if that also meant the cameras would be turned off entirely as Zarif called that a “technical decision, that's not a political decision.”
“The IAEA certainly will not get footage from those cameras,” Zarif said.
The Vienna-based IAEA did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Zarif's comments. The agency last week said the visit was aimed at finding “a mutually agreeable solution for the IAEA to continue essential verification activities in the country.”