TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran officially has begun restricting international inspections of its nuclear facilities, state TV reported Tuesday, a bid to pressure European countries and U.S. President Joe Biden's administration to lift crippling economic sanctions and restore the 2015 nuclear deal.
The state TV report gave little detail beyond confirming that Iran had made good on its threat to reduce cooperation with International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors.
Iran's move to limit international inspections underscores the daunting task facing Biden as he seeks to reverse Trump's policies and return to the deal, the most significant pact between Iran and major world powers since its 1979 Islamic revolution.
“The law has gone into effect from this morning,” said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, reiterating that Iran would no longer share surveillance footage of its nuclear facilities with the U.N. agency.
“We never gave them live video, but (recordings) were given daily and weekly,” Zarif said of the IAEA's access to information recorded by camera monitors. “The tape recording of our (nuclear) program will be kept in Iran.”
The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Tehran’s civilian nuclear agency, has promised to preserve the tapes for three months, then hand it over to the IAEA — but only if granted sanctions relief. Otherwise, Iran has vowed to erase the tapes, narrowing the window for a diplomatic breakthrough.
Iran announced its plans to cease implementation of the so-called “Additional Protocol,” a confidential agreement between Tehran and the IAEA reached as part of the landmark nuclear accord. The agreement grants the U.N. inspectors enhanced powers to visit nuclear facilities and watch Iran’s program.
Nearly three years ago, former U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the nuclear accord and reimposed sanctions on Iran that have squeezed its economy.
To create leverage over Washington, Iran has announced gradual breaches of the agreement over recent weeks. The country has started enriching uranium up to 20% purity, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels, as well as spinning advanced centrifuges and producing uranium metal.
Zarif stressed in a tweet Tuesday that Iran's new limits on nuclear inspections and other violations of the pact are reversible, insisting that the U.S. move first to revive the deal.
In a show of defiance, Cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei outlined further developments in Iran's nuclear program on Tuesday. Over the last three weeks, he told reporters, Iran has installed and started feeding gas into an additional 148 high-tech IR2-m centrifuges at its Natanz nuclear enrichment facility and its fortified nuclear complex at Fordo, bringing the total number of centrifuges to up to 492. Another set of 492 centrifuges will be installed in the coming month, he said.
He added that Iran has installed two cascades of even more advanced centrifuges at its nuclear enrichment facilities, but did not specify where.
On Monday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also signaled Iran would refuse to capitulate to U.S. pressure over its nuclear program. Khamenei said that Iran could enrich uranium up to 60% purity if necessary, but stressed the country forbids nuclear weapons. Tehran has long insisted that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, such as power generation and medical research.
The Biden administration has said it’s ready to join talks with Iran and world powers to discuss a return to the deal. Zarif responded to the overture cautiously on Tuesday, saying that Iran is “assessing the idea of an unofficial meeting" with the parties to the accord “in which America is invited as a non-member.”
In further diplomatic moves, the new U.S. administration rescinded the Trump-imposed U.N. sanctions and eased restrictions on the domestic travel of Iranian diplomats posted to the United Nations.
Rabie praised the steps on Tuesday but threw cold water on hopes for a swift revival of the deal.
“While we consider this as putting America on a constructive path, we see (the steps) as extremely insufficient," he said.
Tuesday's escalation followed IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi's emergency weekend trip to Tehran to negotiate the inspection restrictions. As part of a temporary deal, Grossi said the agency would maintain the same number of inspectors on the ground.
But Iran's curbs would affect inspectors' ability to conduct so-called “snap” inspections of nuclear sites, Grossi said. Iran blocking access to IAEA cameras also means the agency can’t monitor Iranian actions when those inspectors aren’t physically at a site.