JEDDAH: The head of the UN nuclear watchdog arrived in Tehran for crisis talks on Saturday as the clock ticked down on an Iranian ultimatum for a US return to the deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program.
Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he would “meet with senior Iranian officials to find a mutually agreeable solution, compatible with Iranian law, so that the IAEA can continue essential verification activities in Iran.” He added: “I am looking forward to success — this is in everybody’s interest.”
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed in 2015 to limit Iran’s nuclear activities in return for the lifting of economic sanctions. Since former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and began reimposing sanctions, Iran has incrementally breached its obligations under the JCPOA, enriching uranium to prohibited levels of purity.
In its latest ultimatum, Tehran set a deadline of Feb. 23 for the US to return to full compliance with the agreement. If not, Iran will refuse to comply with a section of the JCPOA that permits unannounced snap inspections by the IAEA. The deadline, set in a law passed by the Iranian parliament, has fueled international concern about a possible expulsion of UN inspectors.
Iran has told the IAEA that it will suspend “voluntary transparency measures,” notably inspection visits to non-nuclear sites, including military sites suspected of nuclear-related activity.
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“If the other side has not fulfilled its obligations to lift the sanctions, inspections beyond safeguard measures will be suspended,” Iran’s atomic energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi said on Saturday.
US President Joe Biden on Friday urged European powers to work together to curb Iran’s “destabilizing activities.” He said: “The threat of nuclear proliferation also continues to require careful diplomacy and cooperation among us. That’s why we have said we’re prepared to re-engage in negotiations … on Iran’s nuclear program.”
The US insists Iran must comply with the JCPOA before it will consider easing sanctions, but Tehran says sanctions must be lifted first. In an opening gesture, the Biden administration has dropped a push for more sanctions proposed by Trump and removed restrictions on Iranian diplomats accredited to the UN.
Iran’s government spokesman Ali Rabiei said on Saturday that Tehran’s nuclear deadline would not prevent it from responding to any US show of goodwill.
“We predict with confidence that diplomatic initiatives will result in a favorable outcome despite the diplomatic wrangling, which is a natural prelude to the return of the parties to their commitments, including the lifting of all sanctions in the near future,” he said.