VIENNA/TEHRAN (Dispatches) -- Reviving Iran’s nuclear deal must happen within the coming weeks, UN atomic agency chief Rafael Grossi said on Monday after Tehran resumed 20% uranium enrichment and its parliament threatened to curb access for UN inspectors in February.
"It is clear that we don’t have many months ahead of us. We have weeks,” Grossi said in an interview for the Reuters Next conference.
Iran resumed enriching uranium to 20% fissile strength at the underground Fordow nuclear plant earlier this month. Its parliament passed a law in November that obliges the government to halt inspections of its nuclear sites by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and step up uranium enrichment if U.S. sanctions are not eased.
An Iranian lawmaker said on Jan. 9 said it would give the incoming Biden administration, which takes office on Jan. 20, until Feb. 21 to reverse sanctions.
"I must take it seriously because it’s the law,” Grossi said, adding that he believed the Islamic Republic’s government intended to implement it.
Grossi said Iran was progressing "quite rapidly” in 20% enrichment and that based on estimations it would be able to reach about 10 kilograms a month at its facility in Fordow.
"There will have to be a clear understanding on how the initial terms and provisions of the JCPOA (nuclear deal) are going to be recomplied with,” Grossi said.
The Islamic Republic has warned that with U.S. President Donald Trump "almost gone”, the European Union is "advocating to use his legacy to blackmail Iran”.
Trump abandoned a landmark nuclear deal with Iran and slapped the most aggressive sanctions on the country in a bid to force Tehran to negotiate a new concession on its missile capabilities and influence in the Middle East.
The Europeans remained in the nuclear deal, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but they did not support Iran against the US sanctions as required by the agreement.
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden has supported returning to the nuclear deal and negotiating with Iran, which has demanded an immediate lifting of the sanctions for any talks to resume, but the Europeans seem intent on playing hardball with Tehran.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh summed up the quandary in a tweet late Sunday:
"Trump’s regime was a disaster for the world & a vicious bully against Iranian nation. It’s almost gone, but its toxic LEGACY lives on for the time being, as some of his (alleged) critics in EU now advocating to use his LEGACY to blackmail #Iran,” he wrote.
"Hypocrisy in theory & practice!” he added.
When EU foreign ministers met in Berlin last month to discuss the JCPOA’s future, UK daily the Guardian and other media outlets indicated that the three European powers were considering setting fresh preconditions on a revival of the Iran nuclear deal.
The German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, had already spoken of the need for a "nuclear deal plus” with Iran that would also cover the country’s conventional missile program and regional role.
In an interview with Spiegel magazine,
Maas said last month that "a return to the previous agreement will not be enough,” and that "there will have to be a kind of ‘nuclear deal plus’, which is also in our interest”.
The Guardian said France, Britain and Germany agreed in Berlin not to set new preconditions for the time being and were content for any discussions on "extending and strengthening the deal to wait”.
The UK, it said, was understood to believe the issue of extending the deal need not be raised until "significant progress” has been made on coming back into compliance.
Iran has scaled back its compliance under certain articles of the agreement in response to the unilateral U.S. sanctions and the Europeans’ failure to support Tehran, stating that it will come back into full observance once the sanctions are lifted.
UK foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, reportedly said at the meeting that it was important Iran did not go ahead with further dilution of its commitments to the deal.
Maas also urged Iran not to squander what he viewed as the window of opportunity represented by the incoming Biden administration.
"Now we have to look forward and the next weeks and months will decide whether the deal can be saved,” he told reporters in Berlin.
Iran has made it clear that it will return to full compliance only if the sanctions are lifted - a fact that the Europeans prefer to ignore and use Trump’s coercive measures as a leverage in any negotiations with the Islamic Republic.
On Friday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Muhammad Javad Zarif made one of his harshest criticisms of the EU after the bloc attacked Trump for inciting an unprecedented raid on the US Capitol by his supporters.
"Those who succumbed to Trump’s lawless bullying for 4 yrs—to protect their skin at OUR people’s expense—now condemn his assault on the rule of law,” Zarif tweeted.
"But still try to use his #EconomicTerrorsm against Iran as ‘leverage,’” he added, chiding, "If you can’t grow a spine, gain foresight—for your own sake.”