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U.N.: Iran hobbling inspectors

Reduced nuke access called part of pressure campaign by The Associated Press | February 22, 2021 at 3:00 a.m.
Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi, center, meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, back to camera at left, in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. The head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog met Sunday with Iranian officials in a bid to preserve his inspectors' ability to monitor Tehran's atomic program, even as authorities said they planned to cut off surveillance cameras at those sites. (AP Photo)

TEHRAN, Iran -- Iran will begin to offer United Nations inspectors "less access" to its nuclear program as part of its pressure campaign on the West, though investigators will still be able to monitor Tehran's work, the U.N. atomic watchdog's chief said Sunday.

Rafael Grossi's comments came after an emergency trip to Iran in which he said the International Atomic Energy Agency reached a "technical understanding" with Tehran to continue to allow monitoring of its nuclear program for up to three months. But his remarks to journalists underlined a narrowing window for the U.S. and others to reach terms with Iran, which is already enriching and stockpiling uranium at levels far beyond those allowed by its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

"The hope of the IAEA has been to stabilize a situation which was very unstable," Grossi said at the airport after his arrival back in Vienna, where the agency is based. "I think this technical understanding does it so that other political consultations at other levels can take place and most importantly we can avoid a situation in which we would have been, in practical terms, flying blind."

Grossi, the International Atomic Energy Agency's director general, offered few specifics of the agreement he had reached with Iranian leaders. He said the number of inspectors on the ground would remain the same but that "what changes is the type of activity" the agency was able to carry out, without elaborating further.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who under President Hassan Rouhani helped reach the atomic accord, said the International Atomic Energy Agency would be prevented from accessing footage from their cameras at nuclear sites.

"This is not a deadline for the world. This is not an ultimatum," Zarif told the government-run, English-language broadcaster Press TV. "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."

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 U.N agency reached as part of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal. The International Atomic Energy Agency has additional protocols with a number of countries it monitors.

Under the protocol with Iran, the agency "collects and analyzes 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, Zarif said authorities would be "required by law not to provide the tapes of those cameras." It wasn't immediately clear if that also meant the cameras would be turned off entirely as Zarif called that a "technical decision, that's not a political decision."

"The IAEA certainly will not get footage from those cameras," Zarif said.

Grossi didn't address Zarif's camera remarks Sunday night, but stressed that European and U.S. leaders needed to salvage the situation through negotiations.

"What we have agreed is something that is viable. It is useful to bridge this gap," Grossi said. "It salvages this situation now, but, of course, for a stable, sustainable situation there will have to be a political negotiation and that is not up to me."

There are 18 nuclear facilities and nine other locations in Iran under International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

In 2018, then-President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. unilaterally out of the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, saying it needed to be renegotiated.

Even as Iran has backed away from restrictions of the deal since then to put pressure on the other signatories -- Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China -- to provide new economic incentives to offset U.S. sanctions, those countries have insisted it's critical to keep the deal alive so that inspectors are able to continue to verify Iran's nuclear activities.

From Washington, U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said President Joe Biden remained willing to negotiate with Iran over a return to the nuclear deal, an offer earlier dismissed by Zarif.

"He is prepared to go to the table to talk to the Iranians about how we get strict constraints back on their nuclear program," Sullivan told CBS's "Face the Nation."

Information for this article was contributed by Zeke Miller of The Associated Press.

Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi, right, looks towards Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during a meeting, in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. The head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog met Sunday with Iranian officials in a bid to preserve his inspectors' ability to monitor Tehran's atomic program, even as authorities said they planned to cut off surveillance cameras at those sites. (AP Photo)
Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi, right, looks towards Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during a meeting, in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. The head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog met Sunday with Iranian officials in a bid to preserve his inspectors' ability to monitor Tehran's atomic program, even as authorities said they planned to cut off surveillance cameras at those sites. (AP Photo)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, speaks with Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi, back to camera at center, during their meeting in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. The head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog met Sunday with Iranian officials in a bid to preserve his inspectors' ability to monitor Tehran's atomic program, even as authorities said they planned to cut off surveillance cameras at those sites. (AP Photo)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, speaks with Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi, back to camera at center, during their meeting in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. The head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog met Sunday with Iranian officials in a bid to preserve his inspectors' ability to monitor Tehran's atomic program, even as authorities said they planned to cut off surveillance cameras at those sites. (AP Photo)
Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks in a meeting with Iran's atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. Grossi met with Salehi ahead of Iran's plans to partly suspend United Nations inspections of the country's nuclear facilities. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)
Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks in a meeting with Iran's atomic chief Ali Akbar Salehi in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. Grossi met with Salehi ahead of Iran's plans to partly suspend United Nations inspections of the country's nuclear facilities. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)
Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi from Argentina, speaks to the media after returning from Iran at the Vienna International Airport, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)
Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi from Argentina, speaks to the media after returning from Iran at the Vienna International Airport, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)
Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi from Argentina, speaks to the media after returning from Iran at the Vienna International Airport, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)
Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi from Argentina, speaks to the media after returning from Iran at the Vienna International Airport, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)
Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi from Argentina, speaks to the media after returning from Iran at the Vienna International Airport, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)
Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi from Argentina, speaks to the media after returning from Iran at the Vienna International Airport, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)
Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi from Argentina, speaks to the media after returning from Iran at the Vienna International Airport, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)
Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi from Argentina, speaks to the media after returning from Iran at the Vienna International Airport, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)
Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi, second left, meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, second right, in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. The head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog met Sunday with Iranian officials in a bid to preserve his inspectors' ability to monitor Tehran's atomic program, even as authorities said they planned to cut off surveillance cameras at those sites. (AP Photo)
Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi, second left, meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, second right, in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Feb. 21, 2021. The head of the United Nations' nuclear watchdog met Sunday with Iranian officials in a bid to preserve his inspectors' ability to monitor Tehran's atomic program, even as authorities said they planned to cut off surveillance cameras at those sites. (AP Photo)
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