Iran to limit inspectors' access to its nuclear facilities

Move announced by senior MPs represents another step away from nuclear deal signed in 2015

Iran will further reduce its commitment to the nuclear deal signed with world powers by limiting international inspectors’ access to its nuclear sites, senior Iranian MPs have said.

The move, which is expected to take place at the beginning of November, will be the fourth Iranian step away from the deal, and puts pressure on France, Germany and the UK to make some form of counter-move.

The joint comprehensive plan of action (JCPOA) was signed in 2015 but Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the agreement in 2018, placing pressure on Europe to prove to Iran it was worth sticking with the deal.

On Wednesday, the spokesman for the Iranian parliament’s national security committee, Hossein Naghavi-Hosseini, said: “In the fourth step of reducing JCPOA commitments, we will probably impose limits on inspections, which means the International Atomic Energy Agency’s surveillance on Iran’s nuclear activities will be reduced.”

He added: “When the other party doesn’t fulfil its commitments, there is no necessity for us to meet our part of commitments.

“We will certainly take the fourth step of reducing commitments to the JCPOA; Europeans have not honoured their part of the commitments and we have not seen any practical step taken by the other side.”

On Monday the Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, said Tehran was working on advanced IR-9 centrifuges for uranium enrichment. Those centrifuges do not appear in the 2015 accord.

The French foreign ministry publicly urged Iran not to take what it said would be “particularly worrying steps”.

In July 2015, Iran and a six-nation negotiating group reached a landmark agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that ended a 12-year deadlock over Tehran’s nuclear programme. The deal, struck in Vienna after nearly two years of intensive talks, limited the Iranian programme, to reassure the rest of the world that it cannot develop nuclear weapons, in return for sanctions relief.

At its core, the JCPOA is a straightforward bargain: Iran’s acceptance of strict limits on its nuclear programme in return for an escape from the sanctions that grew up around its economy over a decade prior to the accord. Under the deal, Iran unplugged two-thirds of its centrifuges, shipped out 98% of its enriched uranium and filled its plutonium production reactor with concrete. Tehran also accepted extensive monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has verified 10 times since the agreement, and as recently as February, that Tehran has complied with its terms. In return, all nuclear-related sanctions were lifted in January 2016, reconnecting Iran to global markets.

The six major powers involved in the nuclear talks with Iran were in a group known as the P5+1: the UN security council’s five permanent members – China, France, Russia, the UK and the US – and Germany. The nuclear deal is also enshrined in a UN security council resolution that incorporated it into international law. The 15 members of the council at the time unanimously endorsed the agreement.

On 8 May 2018, US president Donald Trump pulled his country out of the deal. Iran announced its partial withdrawal from the nuclear deal a year later. Trump's successor, Joe Biden, has said that the US could return to the deal if Iran fulfilled its obligations.

Saeed Kamali Dehghan, Iran correspondent

Iran has justified the step by step reduction in its commitment by pointing to the EU’s inability to make good on its promises to increase trade between Iran and Europe. In July, Iran abandoned two of its commitments under the deal by allowing its stockpile of enriched uranium to exceed the 300kg limit and breaching the cap on the purity of its uranium stocks.

The French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, earlier this month told the French parliament’s foreign affairs committee it was up to Iran to pick up the proposals his country sought to broker at the UN general assembly in New York last month.

He said: “We consider that these initiatives, which didn’t succeed, are still on the table and it is up to Iran and the United States to seize [them] in a relatively short amount of time because Iran has announced new measures to reduce its commitments to the Vienna accord [JCPOA] in November.”

Tensions between France and Iran have risen after the Iranian intelligence agencies captured an Iranian exile based in Paris, Rouhollah Zam, who had led a media campaign against the government. He was captured in Jordan this week on his way to Baghdad.

France has also disclosed that Iran has detained Roland Marchal, a senior researcher from Sciences Po University in Paris, since June.

The tensions came as the Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, said one or more foreign powers were behind the missile attack on an Iranian tanker in the Red Sea last week.

Despite the bellicose rhetoric, Iran is exploring if there is room for mediation with Saudi Arabia, after Donald Trump’s withdrawal from Syria and his refusal to take military action against Iran in the wake of the September missile attacks on the Aramco Abqaiq and Khurais oil facilities.

Contributor

Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

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