Iran's removal of surveillance cameras may scupper nuclear talks, says IAEA

·3-min read

The UN atomic energy watchdog said Thursday that Iran was removing 27 surveillance cameras at its nuclear facilities, warning this could deal a "fatal blow" to negotiations to revive a 2015 nuclear deal.

Talks began in April last year to bring the United States back into that landmark agreement, after then president Donald Trump withdrew in 2018 and left it hanging by a thread.

The negotiations also aim to lift sanctions against Iran and bring it back into compliance with nuclear commitments it made to world powers as part of the deal.

But the dialogue has been stalled since March. Raising tensions, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) members on Wednesday passed a resolution censuring Iran over its lack of cooperation with the watchdog.

Iran condemned the rebuke as "unconstructive" and announced it had disconnected some IAEA cameras monitoring its nuclear sites. Mehr News Agency, which is close to the government in Tehran, stated there was "more to follow," without giving specifics.

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said his agency had been informed that 27 cameras were being removed, leaving about 40 still in place.

"So this of course poses a serious challenge to our ability to continue working there," Grossi told reporters, urging Iran to engage with him "immediately".

He said if a solution was not found within three to four weeks, "a fatal blow" will have been dealt to negotiations.

'Deepening isolation'

Wednesday's motion was approved by 30 of the 35 members of the IAEA board of governors, with only Russia and China voting against. It was the first to criticise Iran since June 2020.

The resolution was submitted by the United States, Britain, France and Germany and came after the IAEA said Iran continued to fail to explain adequately the previous discovery of traces of enriched uranium at three sites which Tehran had not declared as having hosted nuclear activities.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that Iran's actions would undermine attempts to restore the 2015 deal.

"The only outcome of such a path will be a deepening nuclear crisis and further economic and political isolation for Iran," Blinken said in a statement.

'We won't back down'

Britain, France and Germany in a joint statement urged Iran to "cease its nuclear escalation, and urgently conclude the deal currently on the table ... while it is still possible".

But Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, an ultraconservative who was elected last year, said the Islamic republic would not be deterred.

"We won't back down, not even a step from our position," state news agency IRNA quoted him as saying on Thursday.

Iran has repeatedly denied any ambition to develop a nuclear weapons capability.

It had already responded angrily to Grossi's decision to visit its arch-foe Israel ahead of the board of governors meeting. It has also accused the UN watchdog of relying too much on "fabricated" Israeli intelligence reports.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett welcomed the censure of Iran before he headed to the United Arab Emirates, a fellow Iran critic, for a previously unannounced visit on Thursday.

(with wires)

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