Iran said Saturday it would be “out of the question” for the UN atomic watchdog to question Iranian scientists and inspect military sites as part of a final nuclear agreement with world powers.
“Interviews with scientists is completely out of the question and so is inspection of military sites,” senior Iranian negotiator Abbas Araqchi told state television.
The head of the UN’s atomic watchdog Yukiya Amano told AFP in an interview this week that if Iran signs a nuclear deal with world powers it will have to accept inspections of its military sites.
Araqchi’s comments come as Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his US counterpart John Kerry were holding crucial talks in Geneva to try and hammer out a historic nuclear deal ahead of a June 30 deadline.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei last week ruled out allowing nuclear inspectors to visit military sites or the questioning of scientists.
And Zarif has said the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which Iran has accepted allows “some access” but not inspections of military sites.
“Anyway we are continuing our negotiations in the framework of procedures predicted by the Additional Protocol. There isn’t and hasn’t been any agreement yet,” said Araqchi.
“One of the questions we are discussing is how the Additional Protocol should be implemented,” he said.
The protocol allows for snap inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities, and if required, of its military sites. But Iran insists that such access should be regulated and must be justified.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Wednesday that France would oppose a nuclear deal with Iran if it did not allow inspections of military sites.
An agreement “will not be accepted by France if it is not clear that verifications can be made at all Iranian facilities, including military sites,” Fabius told parliament.
Kerry and Zarif arrived simultaneously Saturday on the first floor of a leading Geneva hotel in opposite elevators and greeted each other with smiles and a handshake.
They chatted as they walked together along the corridor to the meeting room on the same floor.
Asked by a journalist, whether they expected to meet the nuclear negotiating deadline, Zarif smiled and said: “We will try.” Kerry did not respond.
After an interim accord hammered out in Geneva in November 2013, Washington and Tehran are grappling with the final details of the ground-breaking agreement that would see Iran curtail its nuclear ambitions in return for a lifting of crippling international sanctions.
World powers believe they have secured Iran’s acquiescence to a combination of nuclear restrictions that would fulfill their biggest goal: keeping Iran at least a year away from bomb-making capability for at least a decade. But they are less clear about how they’ll ensure Iran fully adheres to any agreement.
The US says access to military sites must be guaranteed or there will be no final deal. A report Friday by the UN nuclear agency declared work essentially stalled on its multiyear probe of Iran’s past activities.
The Iranians aren’t fully satisfied, either.
The unresolved issues include the pace at which the United States and other countries will provide Iran relief from international sanctions — Tehran’s biggest demand — and how to “snap back” punitive measures into place if the Iranians are caught cheating.
President Barack Obama has used the “snapback” mechanism as a main defense of the proposed pact from sharp criticism from Congress and some American allies.
And exactly how rapidly the sanctions on Iran’s financial, oil and commercial sectors would come off in the first place lingers as a sore point between Washington and Tehran.
Speaking ahead of Kerry’s talks with Zarif, senior State Department officials described Iranian transparency and access, and questions about sanctions, as the toughest matters remaining.
They cited “difficult weeks” since the April 2 framework reached in Lausanne, Switzerland, but said diplomats and technical experts are getting back on a “smooth path.”
Israel has come out as a fierce opponent of the emerging deal, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning that the agreement would pave the way for Iran to acquire nuclear arms.
“It is still not too late to retract the plan,” he said earlier this month. “We oppose this deal and we are not the only ones. It is both necessary and possible to achieve a better deal because extremists cannot be allowed to achieve their aims.”
Arab and largely Sunni Muslim states of the Gulf fear a nuclear deal could be a harbinger of closer US ties with their Shiite arch-foe Iran, a country they also see as fueling conflicts in Yemen, Syria and Iraq.
US President Barack Obama tried to reassure America’s Gulf allies at a Camp David summit earlier in the month that engaging with Iran would not come at their expense.