Iran to remove 27 cameras from nuclear sites, UN says

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The head of the United Nations atomic energy watchdog said Thursday that Iran was withdrawing 27 cameras used by the agency to monitor the country’s nuclear sites, a move he said could carry a ” fatal blow” to stalled international negotiations to restore a 2015 nuclear power plant. agreement.

The removal of the cameras followed the passing of a resolution Wednesday by the oversight board censuring Iran for failing to cooperate in an investigation into traces of uranium found at three undeclared nuclear sites. Only Russia and China voted against the resolution.

Unresolved issues over the sites have long been a source of contention between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency, but the council had repeatedly postponed action on them while broader negotiations progressed.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi rejected the resolution, saying “Iran will not back down one iota on its positions” and its nuclear rights. “How many times do you want to test the Iranian nation…do you think that by issuing resolutions we will back down? he said during a visit to Shahrekord, in the center-west of the country, according to the Iranian news agency Mehr.

In a statement, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it was regrettable that “Iran’s initial response to Council action was not to address the lack of cooperation and transparency” prompted “but rather to threaten further nuclear provocations and further reductions in transparency”. .” Such moves, Blinken said, were “counterproductive” and would further complicate the negotiations.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of the IAEA, said during a press conference in vienna that Iran’s withdrawal of the cameras “poses a serious challenge to our ability to continue to work there and confirm the accuracy of Iran’s statement” on the full range of its past nuclear activities.

Experts call for return to Iran nuclear deal as outlook darkens

The 2015 agreement between Iran and world powers, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, severely limited the country’s ability to produce and store the enriched uranium needed for a nuclear weapon. , in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. The Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the deal in 2018 and then embarked on a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, reimposing the lifted sanctions and adding more than 1,500 more.

Iran, in response, has increased the quality and quantity of its enriched uranium production, well beyond the limits set by the nuclear deal.

The Biden administration negotiated indirectly with Iran to revive the pact, but talks were suspended in March, and U.S. officials have since expressed growing pessimism about the possibility of reinstating the deal. The standoff has heightened tensions in the Middle East, particularly between Iran and Israel, which has long opposed the deal and has carried out attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities.

Biden envoy argues for Iran nuclear deal as outlook fades

As the fate of the deal dominates discussions in the region, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett flew to the United Arab Emirates on Thursday for a surprise visit for talks that his office said focused on “various regional issues “. In comments he made before leaving, Bennett praised the IAEA board for its rebuke of Iran, calling it “a decision that clearly indicates that Iran continues to play games and continues to hide and hide”.

Israel maintains its own unrecognized arsenal of nuclear weapons. Iran insisted it had no intention of building a bomb and that its nuclear program was for peaceful purposes.

In April, a group of 40 former government officials and non-proliferation experts urged President Biden to complete negotiations to restore the 2015 deal, warning that Iran was a week or two away from producing enough uranium. weapons grade to power a nuclear bomb. On Monday, Grossi echoed the warning, saying Iran was “very, very close” to having enough nuclear material to build a weapon, which was not the same thing, he added, than “to have a bomb”.

But the threshold — or a “significant amount,” in IAEA terminology — was “not trivial, it’s a very, very important thing,” he said.

Attempts by the Biden administration to revive the nuclear pact have met with significant resistance from Congress, including Democrats. In April, a bipartisan supermajority in the Senate passed a non-binding resolution insisting that there would be no delisting of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran’s most powerful military force, that the Trump administration designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in 2019.

Although negotiators say they have resolved most outstanding nuclear-related issues, Iran has demanded that the United States lift the designation as a condition to reinstate the JCPOA.

“We are in a very tense situation,” Grossi said on Thursday, describing efforts to revive the deal as “low level”. “Now we’re adding that to the picture,” he said, referring to Iran’s withdrawal of cameras. “It’s not one of those good days. It’s not.”

About 40 cameras monitoring Iran’s atomic program remained, Grossi said. But in about three to four weeks, he said, the removal of the other cameras would leave the IAEA unable to maintain “continuity of knowledge” about Iran’s nuclear activities.

“Iran has a way out of the nuclear crisis it created,” Robert Malley, the Biden administration’s special envoy for Iran, wrote in a Twitter post on Thursday. “Cooperate with the IAEA to resolve the issue of outstanding safeguards and agree to return to the JCPOA, thereby addressing pressing international nonproliferation concerns and securing the lifting of US sanctions. The choice is theirs.

Steve Hendrix in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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