Iran stops UN surveillance of nuclear sites in blow to Vienna talks

Iran had allowed the International Atomic Energy Agency to record activity at some nuclear facilities

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Iran’s parliament speaker said on Sunday that international inspectors may no longer access surveillance images of the country’s nuclear sites.

The move comes amid escalating tensions during a diplomatic effort in Vienna to revive a nuclear deal with world powers.

The comments by the Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, speaker of the Iranian Parliament, aired by state TV, further underlined the narrowing window for the US and others to reach terms with Iran.

Iran is already enriching and stockpiling uranium at levels far beyond those allowed by the 2015 agreement.

“Regarding this, and based on the expiration of the three-month deadline, definitely the International Atomic Energy Agency will not have the right to access images from May 22,” Mr Qalibaf said.

FILE - In this May 28, 2020, file photo, Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, center, is surrounded by a group of lawmakers after being elected as speaker of the parliament, in Tehran, Iran. Iran's parliament speaker says international inspectors may no longer access images of the Islamic Republic's nuclear sites. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)
File photo: In this May 28, 2020, file photo, Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, center, is surrounded by a group of lawmakers after being elected as speaker of the parliament, in Tehran, Iran. AP

The IAEA said its director general would brief reporters later on Sunday in Vienna. The UN agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Under what is called an “Additional Protocol” with Iran, the IAEA “collects and analyses hundreds of thousands of images captured daily by its sophisticated surveillance cameras”, the agency said in 2017.

The agency also said at the time that it had placed “2,000 tamper-proof seals on nuclear material and equipment”.

Iran’s parliament in December approved a bill that would suspend part of UN inspections of its nuclear facilities if European signatories did not provide relief from oil and banking sanctions by February.

The IAEA struck a three-month deal with Iran to have it hold the surveillance images, with Tehran threatening to delete them afterward if no deal had been reached.

It was not immediately clear if the images from February had been deleted. Before Mr Qalibaf's remarks, member of parliament Ali Reza Salimi called for an open session of parliament to ensure Iran's civilian nuclear arm "erased" the images.

The Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran did not immediately comment on the decision.

“Order the head of the Atomic Energy Organisation to avoid delay,” said Mr Salimi, a cleric from the central city of Delijan. The “recorded images in the cameras should be eliminated”.

It also was not clear what this meant for in-person inspections by the IAEA. There are 18 nuclear facilities and nine other locations in Iran under IAEA safeguards.

Mr Qalibaf said Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of state, supported the decision.

In 2018, Donald Trump, US president at the time, pulled the US unilaterally out of the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

An escalating series of incidents since Mr Trump's withdrawal has threatened the wider region.

Over a year ago, a US drone strike killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad, causing Tehran to later launch ballistic missiles that injured dozens of American troops in Iraq.

A mysterious explosion also struck Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, which Iran has described as sabotage.

In November, Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who founded the country's military nuclear programme two decades earlier, was killed in an attack Tehran blames on Israel.