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Blinken warns Iran shutting IAEA cameras will deepen nuclear crisis

US secretary of state says Tehran’s decision to remove 27 surveillance cameras will only lead to ‘further economic and political isolation’

US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken speaks at the IV CEO Summit of the Americas on the sidelines of the IX Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, California, on June 8, 2022. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP)
US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken speaks at the IV CEO Summit of the Americas on the sidelines of the IX Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, California, on June 8, 2022. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday that Iran is risking greater isolation and heightened tensions after the country began removing cameras meant to monitor its nuclear program, but said a return to the nuclear deal, while under threat, was not off the table.

Iran started removing 27 surveillance cameras from nuclear sites across the country, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said Thursday, a day after the UN atomic watchdog formally censured Iran over its lack of cooperation with nuclear inspectors.

“The only outcome of such a path will be a deepening nuclear crisis and further economic and political isolation for Iran,” Blinken said.

Rather than address the IAEA’s concerns, Blinken said, Iran’s response was instead “to threaten further nuclear provocations and further reductions of transparency.”

“Such steps would be counterproductive and would further complicate our efforts to return to full implementation of the JCPOA,” he said.

Iran did not immediately acknowledge it was removing the 27 cameras, though it earlier threatened it could take more punitive steps. State media aired footage Thursday of workers disconnecting two IAEA cameras.

“We hope that they come to their senses and respond to Iran’s cooperation with cooperation,” Behrouz Kamalvandi, an Iranian nuclear program spokesman, said Wednesday of the IAEA officials. “It is not acceptable that they show inappropriate behavior while Iran continues to cooperate.”

Iran’s hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi struck a much more combative tone Thursday while visiting the central city of Shahr-e Kord.

“Do you assume that we withdraw because of resolutions?” he asked. “In the name of God and in the name of the nation, Iran will not withdraw from its stance a single step.”

Earlier Thursday, IAEA head Rafael Grossi said the removal of the cameras used by the UN nuclear watchdog to monitor Tehran’s activities could deal a “fatal blow” to negotiations to restore the deal, which have been stalled for months.

The original agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It was unilaterally abrogated in 2018 by the US administration of Donald Trump, and Iran has slowly resumed activities that have violated its commitments to the deal.

Since coming to office in January 2021, US President Joe Biden has sought to revive the agreement, offering to lift sanctions on the country in exchange for Tehran agreeing to limitations and monitoring of its nuclear development program.

Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), updates journalists about the current situation in Iran as he stands next to an example of a monitoring camera, at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria on June 9, 2022. (Joe KlamarAFP)

Blinken said that the basis to revive the JCPOA has been on the table since March, but said Iran was holding it up with “additional demands that are extraneous” to the agreement.

One Iranian demand holding up a deal has been that the United States removes its official terrorist group designation from the country’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. The Biden administration has rejected that demand, saying the issue is unconnected to the JCPOA.

Times of Israel staff and AP contributed to this report.

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