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The Iranian parliament passed a law in December that should suspend some of the UN inspections of its nuclear facilities if the European signatories do not allow the oil and banking sanctions to be eased by February. The IAEA signed a three-month contract with Iran in February to save the surveillance images. Tehran threatens to delete them later if a contract is not reached.
This three-month period expired on Friday according to the Gregorian calendar. However, according to the Persian calendar, the three-month period ends on Monday.
On Sunday morning, during a session of parliament, Speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf announced that the deal had expired. He said Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state affairs, supports the decision to view the agreement as void.
“After these three months, the International Atomic Energy Agency definitely does not have the right to access or transfer the camera footage,” he said.
Qalibaf, a member of the Supreme Supreme National Security Council of Iran, had previously rejected a further announcement of a nuclear program in April.
Hours later, however, a website called Nournews, believed to be affiliated with Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, quoted an anonymous official who suggested that Tehran’s contract with the IAEA could be extended for another month.
The nuclear negotiations were plagued by conflicting, anonymously leaked information from Iran. This is likely a sign of the conflict between the government of outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, the relatively moderate cleric who closed the 2015 deal, and the hardliners who are now looking to replace it.
In Vienna, the IAEA announced that its director-general Rafael Mariano Grossi would inform journalists about Iran on Sunday afternoon. The agency said on Sunday evening that the briefing would be delayed as consultations between the IAEA and Iran continued.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether the images had been deleted from February through Saturday. Prior to Qalibaf’s remarks, lawmaker Ali Reza Salimi called for an open session of parliament to ensure that the Iranian civilian nuclear arm “erased” the images. The Iranian Atomic Energy Agency, the country’s civil nuclear agency, did not immediately comment on the decision.
“Order the head of the Atomic Energy Agency to avoid delays,” said Salimi, a clergyman from downtown Delijan, Iran. The “captured images in the cameras should be removed.”
Under a confidential agreement known as the “Additional Protocol” with Iran, the IAEA collects and analyzes “hundreds of thousands of images taken daily by their sophisticated surveillance cameras,” the agency said in 2017.
It was also not clear what this meant for personal inspections by the IAEA. There are 18 nuclear facilities and nine other sites in Iran that are protected by the IAEA.
In 2018, then-President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled the US out of the nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. An escalating series of incidents since Trump’s withdrawal has threatened the Middle East.
Over a year ago, a US drone attack killed a top Iranian general, which resulted in Tehran later launching ballistic missiles that wounded dozens of American troops in Iraq.
A mysterious explosion also hit the Iranian nuclear power plant Natanz, which Iran has called sabotage. In November, Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who founded the country’s military nuclear program about two decades earlier, was killed in an attack in which Tehran blamed Israel.
President Joe Biden has said he is ready for the US to rejoin the nuclear deal. The weeks of negotiations in Vienna were described as positive, although no draft contracts were published. The US does not speak directly to Iran at the meetings either.
Talk to ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” on Sunday. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken described Iran as “destabilizing measures in the entire Middle East”. To counteract this, however, he said, “The first thing we have to do is put the nuclear problem back in the box.”
“What we haven’t seen yet is whether Iran is ready and willing to make a decision to do what it has to do,” Blinken said. “This is the test and we don’t have an answer yet.”