78ºF

Iran may block UN inspectors if it faces a 'new situation'

Iran’s president said Monday that Tehran might reconsider providing U.N. inspectors with access to Iran's nuclear facilities if the country were confronted with "a new situation,” the official IRNA news agency reported.

Hassan Rouhani’s remarks came during a meeting with Josep Borrell, the European Union’s new foreign affairs chief, who was on his first visit to Iran since taking office.

The visit is seen as the latest move by the EU to save Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. The agreement hangs on a single thread, one that permits international inspection of its atomic sites, and is already threatened.

"The trend of inspections that has been carried out until today will continue, unless we face a new situation,” Rouhani was quoted by IRNA as saying. He did not elaborate.

Tensions between Iran and the U.S. have steadily risen since President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement and re-imposed sanctions on Iran in 2018. Tehran has responded by gradually rolling back its commitment to the deal in hopes of pressuring Europe into finding a way for Tehran to sell its crude oil abroad despite the American sanctions.

An uneasy quiet has settled over the Middle East in the month since a U.S. drone strike killed the top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani. Iran responded with a flurry of ballistic missiles at U.S. forces in Iraq, and announced it would no longer respect limits set on how many centrifuges it can use to enrich uranium.

Rouhani said Iran is ready for engagement with Europe. “Whenever the other party fully implements its commitments, Iran will return to its commitments,” Rouhani said.

In January, Britain, France and Germany triggered the accord’s dispute mechanism to force Iran into discussions, starting the clock on a process that could result in the “snapback” of U.N. and EU sanctions on Iran.

Speaking with reporters in English, Borrell said “We are in agreement not to go directly to a strict time limit that would oblige to go to the (U.N.) security council."

“I asked to the Iranian authorities and I think they agree we have to continue with the survey of the International Atomic Energy Agency,” said Borrell.

“We expect some positive steps on the nuclear side, and Iranians expect some positive steps in the economic side," he said, adding that those issues would be addressed in the coming weeks.

Borell said the EU is not interested in trying to end the 2015 nuclear deal, but to start a process that would “keep it alive.”

He also met with Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and will meet other Iranian officials during his visit.

Trump, facing an impeachment trial and an election campaign, imposed new sanctions last week targeting the head of Iran’s nuclear program and the agency he directs.