Iranian MP says Tehran will expel UN nuclear inspectors unless sanctions are lifted

Move could undermine US efforts to re-join 2015 nuclear deal

(FILES) In this file photo taken on January 20, 2014 an unidentified International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspector disconnects the connections between the twin cascades for 20 percent uranium production at nuclear power plant of Natanz, some 300 kilometres south of Tehran. Iran confirmed it is now enriching uranium to 20 percent purity, well beyond the threshold set by its 2015 nuclear deal with major powers, sparking international concern. The move at its underground Fordow facility was confirmed by UN watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). / AFP / IRNA / KAZEM GHANE
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Tehran will expel UN nuclear inspectors unless US sanctions are lifted by a February 21 deadline set by Iran's parliament, an Iranian MP  said on Saturday.

Iran's parliament, which is dominated by hardliners, passed a law in November that obliges the government to halt inspections of its nuclear sites by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The law also requires the government to step up uranium enrichment beyond the limit set under the 2015 nuclear deal if sanctions are not eased.

Iran’s Guardian Council, a watchdog, approved the law on December 2. The government said it would implement it.

“According to the law, if the Americans do not lift financial, banking and oil sanctions by February 21, we will definitely expel the IAEA inspectors from the country and will definitely end the voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol,” MP Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani said.

The comments, referring to texts governing the IAEA’s mission and activities, were carried by several Iranian media outlets.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran had an obligation to allow the inspectors access.

“Once again the Iranian regime is using its nuclear programme to extort the international community and threaten regional security,” Mr Pompeo said.

Iran said last week it resumed 20 per cent uranium enrichment at an underground nuclear facility, breaching the nuclear pact with major powers and possibly complicating efforts by US president-elect Joe Biden to re-join the deal.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Friday  that Tehran was in no rush for the US to rejoin the 2015 nuclear deal, but that sanctions on the country must be lifted immediately.

"We are not insisting nor in a hurry for the US to return to the deal," Mr Khamenei said. "But what is logical is our demand, is the lifting of the sanctions. These brutal sanctions must be lifted immediately."

Tensions have grown between Tehran and Washington since 2018, when US President Donald Trump pulled his country from the deal between Iran and six world powers. It sought to limit Tehran’s nuclear programme and prevent it from developing atomic weapons.

Tehran often says it can quickly reverse its breaches if Washington’s sanctions are removed.

The US imposed new sanctions on Iran's steel sector last week, according to the Treasury Department. This will continue to increase pressure on Tehran in the final weeks of Mr Trump's presidency.

Washington blacklisted more than a dozen entities and one person, the Treasury said.