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US and Iran set to clash at UN nuclear watchdog

  • Published at 09:14 pm July 10th, 2019
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)-Iran-United States
A general view ahead of the start of a board of governors meeting at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria July 10, 2019 Reuters

President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that Iran's measures were within the framework of the deal, rejecting a warning by European parties to the pact to continue its full compliance

The United States will use an emergency meeting of the UN nuclear watchdog's board on Wednesday to raise pressure on Iran over breaches of its nuclear deal, but diplomats expect no concrete action as parties to the deal consider their next move.

In the past two weeks Iran has breached two limits central to the deal, which aimed to extended the time Iran would need to obtain enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon, if it chose to, to a year from around 2-3 months.

President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that Iran's measures were within the framework of the deal, rejecting a warning by European parties to the pact to continue its full compliance.

Iran says it is responding to punishing economic sanctions Washington has imposed on Tehran since it pulled out of the deal a year ago. Washington says it is open to talks on a more far-reaching deal but Iran says it must first be able to sell as much oil as it did before the US withdrawal.

Iran says it will continue to breach limits of the deal one by one until it receives the economic windfall the deal promised.

"It was a huge mistake by the Americans to leave the deal," said Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation. "That has caused all the problems."

"The European parties to deal had enough time to salvage the pact," he added.

Washington meanwhile is set on isolating Iran to force it to negotiate over the nuclear pact, its missile programme and its regional behaviour.

"The international community must hold Iran's regime accountable," the United States said in a statement explaining its decision to call the Board of Governors meeting. The meeting begins at 1230 GMT.

Sanctions shield

Diplomats from several countries on the board said that while fiery exchanges between the Iranian and US envoys were likely at the closed-door meeting, they did not expect the board to take any concrete action.

"The latest steps indicate that Tehran's leadership has made a decision to move onto the offensive to create leverage vis-a-vis the international community and bring about a solution to its constraints," a western intelligence source told Reuters.

While Iran has breached the terms of the deal which the IAEA is policing, the IAEA is not a party to the deal and Iran has not violated the Safeguards Agreement binding it to the agency.

"We did not want this meeting," a European diplomat said, before adding wryly: "It's a chance for everyone to express themselves."

Britain, France and Germany have set up a vehicle for barter trade with Iran that will be able to handle small amounts. However, they say there is little they can do to ensure the vital oil sales Iran seeks.

In the Iranian capital Tehran, a senior Iranian official called on the Europeans to "stand up for their identity and independence against America's unilateralism".

"America has taken Europe's sovereignty hostage," said Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council. He was speaking after meeting Emmanuel Bonne, French President Emmanuel Macron's top diplomatic adviser, who was in Tehran for talks to help ease the crisis.

IAEA inspectors verified on July 1 that Iran's stock of enriched uranium had gone over the 202.8kg limit set by the deal, and on Monday that Iran had enriched uranium beyond the deal's 3.67% purity limit. That is still far below the 20% it enriched to before the deal and the roughly 90% needed to make uranium weapons-grade.

Having warned Iran against breaching the deal, the Europeans on Tuesday expressed "deep concern" about Iran's actions but stopped short of initiating a process that could lead to the re-imposition of sanctions lifted under the 2015 deal. Instead, they said all parties to the deal should meet urgently.

The United States meanwhile is seeking a Congress-approved agreement with Iran to replace the deal, the US Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook told Al-Jazeera satellite television network. Iran has rejected talks for a new deal.