Iran has removed two cameras belonging to the UN atomic watchdog from one of its nuclear facilities in a move that threatens to ramp up tensions with western powers.
The Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran announced on Wednesday that the cameras had been taken down. The announcement came as world powers discussed the Islamic regime’s nuclear activities at a board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna.
The decision appeared to be a pre-emptive move by Tehran as the US and European powers are expected this week to submit a resolution to the IAEA board criticising Iran for not co-operating with the watchdog. Reuters reported that a draft resolution was submitted on Tuesday.
Iranian officials have however warned that a critical resolution would damage diplomatic efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear accord Iran signed with world powers. The west accuses Tehran of stalling those efforts and of failing to provide the IAEA with relevant information about traces of atomic material found at some of Iran’s nuclear sites.
IAEA director-general Rafael Mariano Grossi said on Monday that Iran “has not provided explanations that are technically credible in relation to the agency’s findings at three undeclared locations in Iran”.
“Nor has Iran informed the Agency of the current location, or locations, of the nuclear material and/or of the equipment contaminated with nuclear material, that was moved from Turquzabad [nuclear facility] in 2018,” he said in a statement ahead of the IAEA meeting.
Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesperson for the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, told state TV on Wednesday that the Islamic republic “had extensive co-operation with the IAEA but the IAEA’s behaviour was not proportionate to this co-operation”.
“We hope the agency will come to its senses and respond with co-operation with Iran,” he said.
Iran agreed to one of the IAEA’s strictest monitoring programmes after signing the 2015 nuclear accord with the US, Germany, the UK, France, Russia and China. Under the deal, it agreed to curb its nuclear activity in return for the removal of many western sanctions.
But Tehran has been locked in a stand-off with the US since former president Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned the accord in 2018 and imposed waves of crippling sanctions on the republic. Iran responded by aggressively expanding its nuclear activity.
It is now enriching uranium at its highest ever levels and close to weapons grade. It has also been criticised by western officials for becoming less co-operative with the IAEA.
President Joe Biden pledged to rejoin the 2015 accord and remove many sanctions if Iran returned to compliance with the accord. But more than a year of indirect talks between Washington and Tehran, brokered by the EU, have become deadlocked as the two main protagonists have been unable to agree on key outstanding issues.
This includes Tehran’s demand that the Biden administration remove the terrorist designation on Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.
The west’s diplomatic efforts to save the deal have been complicated by the growing influence of hardliners after Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative cleric and protégé of Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, won presidential elections last year. Hardliners now control all arms of the state.
Western officials have repeatedly warned that the scale of Iran’s nuclear activity will make talks redundant if a deal is not swiftly reached.