UN nuclear chief in Iran talks as country threatens watchdog’s cameras

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The head of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog met Iranian officials on Sunday in a bid to preserve his inspectors’ ability to monitor Tehran’s atomic programme, even as authorities said they planned to cut off their surveillance cameras at those sites.

Rafael Grossi’s arrival in Tehran came as Iran tries to pressure Europe and the new Biden administration into returning to the 2015 nuclear deal, which President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from in 2018.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who under President Hassan Rouhani helped reach the nuclear deal, said the cameras of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) would be shut off despite Mr Grossi’s visit after a law was passed by parliament.

“This is not a deadline for the world. This is not an ultimatum,” Mr Zarif told the government-run, English-language broadcaster Press TV in an interview aired during Mr Grossi’s visit.

“This is an internal domestic issue between the parliament and the government.”

“We have a democracy. We are supposed to implement the laws of the country. And the parliament adopted legislation – whether we like it or not.”

Mr Zarif’s comments marked the highest-level acknowledgement yet of what Iran planned to do when it stopped following the so-called “Additional Protocol”, a confidential agreement between Tehran and the IAEA reached as part of the nuclear deal.

The IAEA has additional protocols with a number of countries it monitors.

Under the 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 then that it had placed “2,000 tamper-proof seals on nuclear material and equipment”.

In his interview, Mr Zarif said authorities would be “required by law not to provide the tapes of those cameras”.

It was not immediately clear if that also meant the cameras would be turned off entirely as the foreign minister called that a “technical decision, that’s not a political decision”.

“The IAEA certainly will not get footage from those cameras,” he said.

The Vienna-based IAEA did not immediately respond to a request for a response to Mr Zarif’s comments.

The agency said last week that Mr Grossi’s visit was aimed at finding “a mutually agreeable solution for the IAEA to continue essential verification activities in the country”.

Earlier on Sunday, Mr Grossi met Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s civilian nuclear programme.

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

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