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Iran nuke chief vows UN watchdog’s cameras will remain off until deal revived

Mohammad Eslami says 2015 nuclear deal was supposed to remove any suspicion Iranian program is not entirely peaceful, and as long as accusations persist, monitoring will be stopped

Mohammad Eslami, head of Iran's nuclear agency (AEOI) talks on stage at the International Atomic Energy's (IAEA) General Conference in Vienna, Austria, September 20, 2021. (Lisa Leutner/AP)
Mohammad Eslami, head of Iran's nuclear agency (AEOI) talks on stage at the International Atomic Energy's (IAEA) General Conference in Vienna, Austria, September 20, 2021. (Lisa Leutner/AP)

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said Monday that UN surveillance cameras installed at the country’s nuclear sites to monitor operations will remain off unless the defunct 2015 nuclear deal with world powers is revived.

Iran said it removed the cameras last months as talks to rescue the nuclear agreement faltered.

“We will not turn on the IAEA cameras until the other side returns to the nuclear deal,” Mohammad Eslami told reporters, according to a Reuters report citing the Iranian Tasnim news agency.

Eslami said that the whole point of the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, was to end accusations that Iran’s nuclear program is anything but peaceful.

As long as such accusations persist the cameras will stay off, he said, insisting that Iran’s nuclear activities were for peaceful purposes only.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry said Monday Tehran will not be rushed into a “quick” deal to revive the nuclear accord with world powers.

“They demand that Iran makes a quick decision, [insisting that] time is limited and Iran must respond quickly,” foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani said at his weekly news conference, referring to Western parties to the nuclear deal.

Kanani said the Islamic Republic will “not sacrifice the country’s fundamental interests… with a rushed process.” It was being put under “psychological pressure and unilateral expectations,” he said. But “if the US acts constructively and positively, an agreement is close.”

Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the IAEA, presents a surveillance camera at the International Atomic Energy Agency’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria, on December 17, 2021. Alex Halada/AFP)

The JCPOA was signed between Iran and the US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany. It gave Iran sanctions relief in return for curbs on its nuclear program to prevent it obtaining a nuclear weapon.

As part of the deal, Iran agreed to install dozens of UN-operated cameras at its facilities to monitor activities.

The Trump administration pulled out of the deal in 2018 and reimposed stiff sanctions. Iran responded by dropping its own commitments to the JCPOA, ramping up its nuclear activities and enriching uranium to levels beyond those set in the agreement.

In June, the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency said that Iran had turned off 27 surveillance cameras from nuclear sites in the country, raising the risk of its inspectors being unable to track Tehran’s advances as it enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.

It called the move a “fatal blow” to negotiations aimed at reviving the JCPOA. Talks have been stalled for months.

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, second right, listens to an explanation while viewing an advanced centrifuge at an exhibition of Iran’s nuclear achievements in Tehran, Iran on April 9, 2022. (Iran President’s Office)

Talks in Vienna that started in April 2021 to restore the deal have stalled since March amid differences between Tehran and Washington on several issues.

The two sides negotiated indirectly through the European Union coordinator.

Qatar hosted indirect talks last month between the United States and Iran in a bid to get the Vienna process back on track, but those discussions broke up after two days without any breakthrough.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday told his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi that reviving the landmark deal was “still possible” but must happen “as soon as possible.”

Macron also “expressed his disappointment” at the absence of progress after the suspension of talks in Vienna and underlined the need for Iran to return to the accord and implement its nuclear commitments, according to a French presidency statement.

Macron’s comments came after Britain’s spy chief voiced doubt that the deal can be revived, saying Iran’s supreme leader and ultimate decision-maker Ayatollah Ali Khamenei remained opposed.

“I don’t think the supreme leader… wants to cut a deal. The Iranians won’t want to end the talks either so they could run on for a bit,” MI6 chief Richard Moore said late last week.

This combination of file pictures shows French President Emmanuel Macron (right) and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. (AP)

On Friday, the head of the IAEA warned that Iran’s nuclear program “is advancing at a gallop and we have very little visibility.”

A day earlier, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said Iran “doesn’t seem to have made the political decision -– or decisions, I should say — necessary to achieve a mutual return to compliance” with the deal.

Last week, an Iranian official said Tehran had the technical capacity to make a nuclear bomb but clarified that it had not decided to make any.

The Iranian foreign ministry later said there was “no change” in its nuclear policy, referring to an Islamic ruling that forbids “arms of mass destruction.”

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