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Iran says it won’t expel nuclear watchdog inspectors

Government officials stressed that international watchdog inspectors will not be expelled from Iran’s nuclear sites, rejecting a senior lawmaker’s statement that such a plan was in the pipeline if the United States failed to lift sanctions against Tehran.

The spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, Saeed Khatibzadeh, said Tehran has no plans to expel inspectors dispatched by the International Atomic Energy Organization (IAEA) for regular visits to the country’s nuclear sites.

Khatibzadeh was addressing questions and concerns raised after a stern warning from senior lawmaker Ahmad Amir-Abadi Farahani. The hard-line parliamentarian said in a televised interview earlier this week that the Islamic Republic will “definitely” push out those inspectors if the incoming Joe Biden administration fails to lift US sanctions against Iran by Feb. 21.

Farahani grounded his argument on a recently ratified parliamentary legislation that has set a two-month deadline for the United States to return to the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and the remaining signatories to honor their side of the accord.

Khatibzadeh hinted at the lawmaker’s possible misinterpretation of the legislation. “This might have been a slip of the tongue,” he told reporters, noting that allowing IAEA inspections is a separate commitment under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which Iran is a signatory.

The comments were reaffirmed by the spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Behrouz Kamalvandi, who stressed that inspections are part and parcel of Iran’s cooperation with the UN nuclear watchdog and the visits will not be banned even if Iran suspends its voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol. Suspension of that protocol is among potential measures that the controversial parliamentary legislation has approved in response to the violations of the other parties.

Under the same law, the Islamic Republic has already taken other steps, including a resumption of nuclear enrichment at the 20% level, which is viewed as a significant breach of the JCPOA that had kept the rate under the 3.67% cap. The announcement has triggered international reactions, including “deep concern” from the European Council.  

Despite the statements from the two government officials in Tehran, Fereydoun Abbasi, another ultraconservative lawmaker and a former atomic chief himself, renewed the warning that the IAEA inspectors “will be denied entry” if the other JCPOA signatories fail the deadline. 

And apart from the contradictory signals sent from inside Iran, the uncertainty surrounding the future of the nuclear deal grew further after a Jan. 11 report by the New York-based Institute for Science and International Security. The institute has released satellite imagery that purportedly shows Iran’s fast-paced progress toward the construction of tunnels for a suspected new underground facility close to the Natanz nuclear enrichment site. Iranian officials have not yet commented on the report.

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