By Sune Engel Rasmussen and Laurence Norman
Iran limited international monitoring of its nuclear activities
on Tuesday, even as it said it was open to a European proposal that
would bring its officials together with American negotiators for
the first time since the U.S. withdrew from the nuclear deal in
Citing the U.S. refusal to lift sanctions imposed by the Trump
administration, Iran said it would no longer grant United Nations
inspectors daily access to its nuclear facilities, or provide
round-the-clock security footage of its activities at these sites.
Iran will also bar the U.N. atomic agency from inspecting other
sites where it suspects nuclear-related work might be taking
The moves to curb international scrutiny of its nuclear
facilities marks Tehran's latest effort to pressure the U.S. to
lift sanctions. In recent months, Iran has also restarted
enrichment of uranium at 20% purity, its highest level since 2013
and a relatively short step from producing weapons-grade material.
Iran has also produced uranium metal, which can be used in the core
of a nuclear weapon. The nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, banned
From its inception, the nuclear deal was controversial in the
Middle East, where longtime American allies in Israel and the Gulf
opposed the U.S.'s decision to lift sanctions on Iran and recognize
its right to enrich uranium for civilian purposes, albeit under
tight restrictions. A return to the deal requires a complex,
diplomatic choreography, as both Washington and Tehran insist the
other side has to make concessions first.
On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned
Iran that "with or without agreements -- we will do everything so
that you will not arm yourselves with nuclear weapons."
The Trump administration left the nuclear deal in May 2018
partly because it didn't restrict Iran's military footprint in the
Middle East. Iran rebuffed former President Trump's attempts to
negotiate a broader agreement.
Now, Tehran has said it is weighing whether to accept a proposal
by senior EU officials last week to host informal talks between the
remaining participants in the 2015 nuclear deal and the U.S. as a
guest. In recent days, European officials have warned Iran that it
risks isolation if it misses the opportunity for direct talks.
"These diplomatic contacts have to be discreet but I am
reasonably optimistic" that Iran will join talks, the EU's chief
diplomat, Josep Borrell, said Monday.
Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei said Tuesday that Iran
was "looking into the European side's proposal of an informal
meeting for a dialogue."
President Biden has said he intends to rejoin the nuclear deal
if Iran comes back into compliance. Mr. Biden wants to use the deal
as a starting point for talks about longer nuclear restrictions,
constraining Iran's missile program and reeling in its regional
network of militias.
Iran has refused to include those core elements of its national
defense in any nuclear talks.
Hamid Aboutalebi, a former presidential adviser and Iranian
ambassador, said Mr. Biden's position suggests the new U.S.
administration might not be sincere about adhering to the nuclear
deal, but is actually aiming for the same kind of broader security
agreement that Mr. Trump sought.
"The issue is whether the U.S. will ever return and commit to
the JCPOA, " Mr. Aboutalebi said.
In a separate move that could help smooth the resumption of
talks, South Korea, a U.S. ally, said Tuesday it was consulting
with Washington to release Iranian cash it has withheld since 2019
due to sanctions. A breakthrough would provide a much-needed
infusion of foreign exchange to the Iranian sanctions-battered
Iran has tens of billions of dollars worth of oil revenues stuck
in overseas bank accounts because U.S. sanctions of Iran's central
bank and oil exports prevented transfers of funds to Tehran. Under
the 2015 nuclear deal, around $130 billion in funds, frozen under
previous American sanctions, were repatriated to Iran.
Despite Iran's repeated breaches of the nuclear deal, Tehran
softened its initial position of slashing access for the
International Atomic Energy Agency to a range of its nuclear
Under a deal struck over the weekend in Tehran by U.N. atomic
chief Rafael Grossi, Iran agreed to provide footage and
measurements of its declared nuclear facilities after several
months if the U.S. lifts sanctions. It also agreed to provide
footage of activities at sites that make key nuclear equipment,
such as centrifuge rotors and uranium ore mines.
While the atomic agency will lose its daily access to sites
where Iran is enriching uranium, it will be able to continue
monitoring Iran's fissile material production and stockpile, and
the purity of the uranium it produces through inspections. That
will ensure the international community knows how much nuclear fuel
Tehran has stockpiled that could be used in a nuclear weapon.
The agreement stabilizes the situation, Mr. Grossi said. "Other
political consultations at other levels can take place," he said.
"Most importantly, we can avoid a situation in which we would have
been, in practical terms, flying blind."
--Aresu Eqbali, Andrew Jeong and Felicia Schwartz contributed to
Write to Sune Engel Rasmussen at firstname.lastname@example.org and
Laurence Norman at email@example.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
February 23, 2021 10:09 ET (15:09 GMT)
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