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Iran Officially Curbs Nuke Inspections 02/24 06:24

   Iran officially started restricting international inspections of its nuclear 
facilities Tuesday, a bid to pressure European countries and President Joe 
Biden's administration to lift crippling economic sanctions and restore the 
2015 nuclear deal.

   TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran officially started restricting international 
inspections of its nuclear facilities Tuesday, a bid to pressure European 
countries and President Joe Biden's administration to lift crippling economic 
sanctions and restore the 2015 nuclear deal.

   World powers slammed the restrictions as a "dangerous" move.

   It came as the International Atomic Energy Agency reported in a confidential 
document distributed to member countries and seen by The Associated Press that 
Iran had added 17.6 kilograms (38.8 pounds) of uranium enriched up to 20% to 
its stockpile as of Feb. 16.

   It was the first official confirmation of plans Iran announced in January to 
enrich to the greater purity, which is just a technical step away from 
weapons-grade levels and far past the 3.67% purity allowed under the nuclear 
deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

   Iran also increased its total enriched uranium stockpile to 2,967.8 
kilograms (6,542.9 pounds), up from 2,442.9 kilograms (5,385.7 pounds) reported 
on Nov. 2, the IAEA reported.

   Iran's violations of the JCPOA and the move Tuesday to limit international 
inspections underscore the daunting task facing Biden as he seeks to reverse 
former President Donald Trump's decision to pull the U.S. unilaterally out of 
the deal in 2018. That left Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia 
struggling to keep it alive.

   The JCPOA was the most significant pact between Iran and major world powers 
since its 1979 Islamic revolution, and Germany, France and Britain stressed 
their commitment Tuesday to preserving it, urging Iran to "stop and reverse all 
measures that reduce transparency."

   "The E3 are united in underlining the dangerous nature of this decision," 
the European powers said in a statement. "It will significantly constrain the 
IAEA's access to sites and to safeguards-relevant information."

   Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said a new law had gone into 
effect Tuesday morning, under which Iran will no longer share surveillance 
footage of its nuclear facilities with the U.N. agency.

   "We never gave them live video, but (recordings) were given daily and 
weekly," Zarif said of the IAEA's access to information recorded by camera 
monitors. "The tape recording of our (nuclear) program will be kept in Iran."

   The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Tehran's civilian nuclear agency, 
has promised to preserve the tapes for three months, then hand them over to the 
IAEA --- but only if granted sanctions relief. Otherwise, Iran has vowed to 
erase the tapes, narrowing the window for a diplomatic breakthrough.

   Since Trump pulled the U.S. out of the JCPOA, Iran has gradually been 
violating its restrictions to put pressures on the remaining nations to come up 
with economic incentives to offset crippling American sanctions.

   Besides surpassing the purity and stockpiles allowed, Iran has also been 
spinning advanced centrifuges and producing uranium metal.

   Zarif stressed in a tweet Tuesday that Iran's new limits on nuclear 
inspections and other violations of the pact are reversible, insisting that the 
U.S. move first to revive the deal.

   In a show of defiance, Cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei outlined further 
developments in Iran's nuclear program on Tuesday. Over the last three weeks, 
he told reporters, Iran has installed and started feeding gas into an 
additional 148 high-tech IR2-m centrifuges at its Natanz nuclear enrichment 
facility and its fortified nuclear complex at Fordo, bringing the total number 
of centrifuges to up to 492. Another set of 492 centrifuges will be installed 
in the coming month, he said.

   He added that Iran has installed two cascades of even more advanced 
centrifuges at its nuclear enrichment facilities, but did not specify where.

   On Monday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also signaled Iran would 
refuse to capitulate to U.S. pressure over its nuclear program. Khamenei said 
that Iran could enrich uranium up to 60% purity if necessary, but stressed the 
country forbids nuclear weapons. Tehran has long insisted that its nuclear 
program is for peaceful purposes, such as power generation and medical research.

   Before the nuclear deal, in 2013, Iran's stockpile of enriched uranium was 
already more than 7,000 kilograms (7.72 tons) with higher enrichment, but it 
didn't pursue a bomb.

   The Biden administration has said it's ready to join talks with Iran and 
world powers to discuss a return to the deal. Zarif responded to the overture 
cautiously Tuesday, saying Iran is "assessing the idea of an unofficial 
meeting" with the parties to the accord "in which America is invited as a 

   In further diplomatic moves, the new U.S. administration rescinded the 
Trump-imposed U.N. sanctions and eased restrictions on the domestic travel of 
Iranian diplomats posted to the United Nations.

   Rabiei praised the steps on Tuesday but threw cold water on hopes for a 
swift revival of the deal.

   "While we consider this as putting America on a constructive path, we see 
(the steps) as extremely insufficient," he said.

   Before Iran implemented its new restrictions on IAEA inspections, the 
agency's director-general, Rafael Grossi, negotiated a temporary deal during an 
emergency weekend trip to Tehran. It allowed him to keep the same number of 
inspectors on the ground.

   In the report to members, the IAEA said the understanding would enable the 
agency to continue with its necessary JCPOA verification and monitoring 
activities for three months.

   It added it would also "enable the agency to resume its full verification 
and monitoring of Iran's nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA if and 
when Iran resumes its implementation of those commitments."

   The IAEA also said it was still awaiting answers from Iran on three sites 
where inspections had revealed traces of uranium of man-made origin.

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