Will Zarif, Tillerson meet for session on nuclear deal?

A possible Iranian request for a meeting about the nuclear deal would set up the first talk between the Iranian and American foreign ministers since the election of President Donald Trump.

al-monitor The head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, attends the lecture "Iran After the Agreement: Hopes & Concerns" in Vienna, Austria, Sept. 28, 2016. Photo by REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger.

Aug 28, 2017

The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Ali Akbar Salehi, told reporters there is a chance that Iran could call for a meeting of the foreign ministers of the P5+1 during the United Nations General Assembly in September. The meeting would be the first between Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, should both attend.

Zarif met numerous times with Tillerson’s predecessor, John Kerry, and the two broke a decadeslong taboo with direct, bilateral negotiations. The Iran-US bilateral meetings were largely responsible for breaking the impasse over Iran’s nuclear program.

Salehi also discussed the possible Iranian response to a US withdrawal from the nuclear deal that was signed two years ago between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany. He said that if the United States and the European countries in the P5+1 leave the deal, Iran will do so as well. But he said that if the other members of the P5+1 remain and only the United States leaves the deal, Iran will not walk away.

Salehi said the US desire to walk away from the nuclear deal has more to do with domestic political circumstances in the United States. “In its political strategy, the US is conflicted … [and] we are seeing political confusion and some regional countries are escalating this mess,” Salehi said, without elaborating. He said Iran has made preparations for “all possible scenarios,” but hopes the United States “comes to its senses.”

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley recently pressed the International Atomic Energy Agency regarding inspections of Iranian military sites. As part of the nuclear deal, the IAEA has access of sorts to Iranian military sites upon request and inspected the Parchin military site since the signing of the deal. It is not clear if Haley is requesting broader inspection of military sites or if she is setting up a scenario to help the United States leave the nuclear deal, which President Donald Trump has previously said would happen.

Hassan Firouzabadi, former chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces and currently an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said that in Iran, “no official, foreign or domestic, has the right to inspect a military site without the permission of the commander in chief.” The confusion appears to be whether the IAEA physically enters Iran’s military sites, which is not part of the deal, or if nuclear inspectors are handed samples from requested sites.

During an Aug. 27 press conference, Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghassemi said US pressures on the IAEA are “illogical and unrealistic.” Regarding Haley’s visit to the IAEA, Ghassemi said, “She can claim she had a successful trip, but the framework of the nuclear deal is clear and we made an agreement about this and it has been confirmed by the United Nations Security Council with a resolution.”

Ghassemi said the framework with regard to IAEA inspections is “irreversible,” meaning Iran will not renegotiate those terms. He said that the United States is seeking to portray Iran as being noncooperative with the IAEA but that Iran has had positive cooperation with the IAEA and that the IAEA has repeatedly issued statements on Iran’s adherence to the nuclear deal.

Ghassemi said Iran will “completely try to protect the nuclear deal,” but added that it is a multilateral agreement and that the other sides need to abide by the agreement as well. He urged European leaders to counter rogue US actions with respect to the nuclear deal.

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