TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s president warned Monday that any road map to restoring Tehran’s frayed nuclear deal with world powers must lead international inspectors to end their probe into artificial uranium particles found in undeclared locations in the country.
In a rare press conference for his first year in office, President Ebrahim Raisi also issued threats against Israel and tried to appear upbeat as Iran’s economy and rial currency have slumped under the weight of international sanctions.
Despite international attention on the deal as talks in Vienna hang in the balance, Raisi took more than an hour before fully acknowledging the ongoing negotiations. Tehran and Washington have exchanged written responses in recent weeks on the finer points of the roadmap, which would see Iran lift sanctions in exchange for curbs on its fast-moving nuclear program.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has for years sought to get Iran to answer questions about man-made uranium particles found in undeclared locations. US intelligence agencies, Western nations and the IAEA have said Iran operated an organized nuclear weapons program by 2003. Iran has long denied it ever sought nuclear weapons.
As a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran is required to explain the radioactive traces and provide assurances that they are not being used as part of a nuclear weapons program. Iran came under fire from the IAEA Board of Governors in June for failing to answer questions about the sites to the satisfaction of inspectors.
Raisi mentioned the tracks — referring to the issue of “safeguards” using IAEA language.
“Without settlement of safeguard issues, talking about an agreement is meaningless,” Raisi said.
Under the 2015 nuclear deal, Tehran could enrich uranium to 3.67 percent while keeping a 300-kilogram (660-pound) uranium stockpile under constant surveillance by surveillance cameras and IAEA inspectors. Then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the deal in 2018, setting the stage for years of rising tensions.
According to the IAEA’s latest public count, Iran has a stockpile of about 3,800 kilograms (8,370 pounds) of enriched uranium. More worryingly for non-proliferation experts, Iran is now enriching uranium to 60% purity — a level it has never reached before, a short, technical step away from 90%. These experts warn that Iran has enough 60% enriched uranium to reprocess it into fuel for at least one nuclear bomb.
Amid the tensions, Israel is suspected of carrying out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear facilities, as well as a prominent scientist. On Monday, Raisi directly threatened Israel.
Raishi said that if Israel decides to carry out its threats to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, “they will see whether something of the Zionist regime remains or not.”
At his first press conference, Raisi simply said “no” when asked if he would meet with President Joe Biden. Asked again on Monday as the United Nations General Assembly approaches next month, Raisi stood by his earlier answer.
“There is no benefit to a meeting between us and him,” the president said. “Neither for the Iranian nation nor for the interests of our great nation.”
Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.