Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pleaded with the international community over the weekend to unify against Iran’s latest threat to expel United Nations nuclear inspectors if Washington doesn’t drop sanctions imposed on Tehran in the Trump era.
“Iran’s expulsion of international inspectors must be met by universal condemnation,” Mr. Pompeo said in a statement Saturday night, after a member of Iran’s parliament warned that Tehran is set to eject the inspectors by a February deadline.
The back-and-forth posturing comes at a moment of uncertainty over the future of American policy toward Iran, as President-elect Joseph R. Biden, who will take office on Jan. 20, has signaled a desire to rejuvenate the Obama-era nuclear deal that the U.S. and other world powers struck with Tehran in 2015.
In 2018, President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the deal — known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA — that had seen Iran limit its nuclear activities and allow U.N. inspections in exchange for sweeping international sanctions relief.
Mr. Trump’s rationale was that the deal was “disastrous” because it failed to address Iranian meddling and support of militant activity around the Middle East. The U.S. has listed Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1984. In pulling the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal, the Trump administration reimposed sanctions on Tehran and pushed to uphold a global embargo on Iranian crude oil.
While other signatories of the nuclear deal, including the European Union, China and Russia, have sought to keep the accord alive, Iran itself has flirted with fully abandoning it since Washington withdrew.
Iran’s parliament passed a law in November that obliges the government to halt inspections of its nuclear sites by the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog — the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) — and ramp up uranium enrichment operations to a level beyond limits that were set by the 2015 nuclear deal.
Uranium enrichment is the process needed to make nuclear bombs.
The “Guardian Council” of Iran’s supreme leader approved the law on Dec. 2, and the government in Tehran has since said it will implement it, according to Reuters, which maintained in a report over the weekend that Iran already indicated last week that it had violated the 2015 nuclear deal by resuming 20% uranium enrichment activities at an underground nuclear facility.
The news agency also cited Iranian media reports quoting Iranian parliamentarian Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani as saying: “According to the law, if the Americans do not lift financial, banking and oil sanctions by Feb. 21, we will definitely expel the IAEA inspectors from the country and will definitely end the voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol.”
Mr. Pompeo responded with his own statement asserting that “once again the Iranian regime is using its nuclear program to extort the international community and threaten regional security.”
“Iran’s threat goes much further than violating the JCPOA,” Mr. Pompeo said, asserting that Tehran also would be violating the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that it signed and ratified with dozens of other nations back in 1970.
“Iran has a legal treaty obligation to allow IAEA inspector access pursuant to Iran’s NPT-required safeguards agreement,” Mr. Pompeo said. “Violating those obligations would thus go beyond Iran’s past actions inconsistent with its JCPOA nuclear commitments.”
“Nuclear [brinkmanship] will not strengthen Iran’s position, but instead lead to further isolation and pressure,” the secretary of state said.
“This threat follows on the heels of the Iranian regime announcing it has resumed 20% uranium enrichment at Fordow, the fortified, underground facility Iran originally constructed in secret, further breaching its nuclear pact,” he added. “The world’s top sponsor of terrorism should not be allowed to enrich uranium at any level.”
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