Iran has the right to “gradually downgrade” its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal because European signatories failed to uphold their end of the agreement, its nuclear chief said.
Ali Akbar Salehi, the director of Iran’s nuclear energy agency, made the comments after meeting Cornel Feruta, head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), for talks on Iran’s nuclear programme in Tehran on Sunday.
On Saturday, Iran announced it further breached the limits on its nuclear activity set by the nuclear accord, which had been agreed on by Iran, China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK, the US and the European Union.
Salehi said because the “European parties” had not adequately restored Iran’s access to foreign trade, which was blocked by the reimposition of US sanctions, Iran was not required to curb its nuclear programme under the current deal.
“The European Union was supposed to be the replacement of the US but, unfortunately, they failed to act on their promises,” Salehi told reporters, saying the deal was not a “one-way street”.
“I am wondering. Are they committed to non-adherence? Are they committed to breaking promises? Unfortunately, the Europeans have done this so far.”
Feruta, in turn, called for “timely and active cooperation” from Tehran.
The IAEA is tasked with assessing if Iran is complying with international safeguards for nuclear development. It also monitors Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement.
Iran has said it will continue to allow the IAEA monitoring despite backing away from its commitments to the nuclear agreement.
In 2018, the US unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear deal, in which Tehran had agreed to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for a reprieve from international sanctions.
Since then, the US has gradually reinstated a policy of “maximum pressure” sanctions, in particular targeting Iran’s oil exports, in hopes of pressuring Tehran to negotiate restrictions on its ballistic missile programme and curtail support for its proxy forces around the Middle East.
On Sunday, a US official told Reuters news agency the United States would continue to impose sanctions on whoever purchases Iran’s oil or conducts business with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
France, Germany and Britain have scrambled to find a way forward, including trying to launch a barter-trade mechanism with Iran to protect it from the US sanctions, but they have struggled to find a viable solution.
Tehran on Wednesday set a 60-day deadline for an effective response from the European countries to solve the crippling economic effects of the US sanctions.
As tensions rise between the US and Iran, Tehran has incrementally backed away from its commitments under the deal in an apparent attempt to increase pressure on the remaining parties.
In July, Tehran flouted a provision that required it to keep its stockpile of enriched uranium below 300kg. It also said it was no longer maintaining a 3.67 percent cap on the purity of its uranium stocks, as agreed to in the deal.
On Saturday, Iran further undid key measures of the accord with officials saying they launched advanced centrifuge machines. They said the country was capable of raising uranium enrichment past the 20 percent level of fissile purity, just a short technical step away from the 90 percent enrichment considered weapons-grade level.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who also met with Feruta on Sunday, told the IAEA head his country’s non-compliance was justified, saying breaches were permitted under Paragraph 36 of the nuclear accord, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
Iranian officials say the paragraph allows one party to the deal to cut its commitments if others do not live up to theirs.
Zarif also urged the IAEA “to respect professional principles, maintain confidentiality, and carry out its duties impartially” in its monitoring, the official IRNA news agency reported.
Feruta stressed the IAEA’s activities were conducted in an impartial, independent and objective manner, and in accordance with standard practices, according to a press release on the IAEA website.
The visit comes a day before IAEA’s 35-nation board of governors is set to gather for their quarterly meeting in Vienna, where Feruta is set to report the findings from his visit.
France, which has been leading the European efforts to rescue the nuclear deal, said on Sunday that Iran’s most recent moves were still reparable.
“The actions they have taken are negative but not definitive. They can come back [to full compliance] and the path of dialogue is still open,” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said.