Iran’s president warned on Monday that any roadmap to restore Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers must see international inspectors end their probe on man-made uranium particles found at undeclared sites in the country.
In a rare news conference marking his first year in office, President Ebrahim Raisi also issued threats against Israel and tried to sound upbeat about Iran’s economy and the rial currency which has suffered under the weight of international sanctions.
Despite international attention on the deal as talks in Vienna hang in the balance, it took Mr Raisi well over an hour before fully acknowledging the ongoing negotiations.
Tehran and Washington have traded written responses in recent weeks on the finer points of the roadmap, which would see sanctions lifted against Iran in exchange for it restricting its rapidly advancing nuclear programme.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has for years sought to get Iran to answer questions about man-made uranium particles found at undeclared sites.
US intelligence agencies, Western nations and the IAEA have said Iran ran an organised nuclear weapons programme until 2003. Iran has denied ever seeking nuclear weapons.
As a member of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran is obligated to explain the radioactive traces and to provide assurances that they are not being used as part of a nuclear weapons programme.
Iran was criticised by the IAEA’s Board of Governors in June over its failure to answer questions about the sites to the inspectors’ satisfaction.
Mr Raisi mentioned the traces – referring to it as a “safeguard” issue, using the IAEA’s language.
“Without settlement of safeguard issues, speaking about an agreement has no meaning,” he said.
Under the 2015 nuclear deal, Tehran could enrich uranium to 3.67%, while maintaining a stockpile of uranium of 660lb (300kg) under constant scrutiny of IAEA surveillance cameras and inspectors.
Then-president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord in 2018, setting the stage for years of rising tensions.
As of the last public IAEA count, Iran has a stockpile of some 8,370lb (3,800kg) of enriched uranium.
More worrying for non-profileration experts, the country now enriches uranium up to 60% purity – a level it never reached before, which is a short, technical step away from 90%. Those experts warn Iran has enough 60%-enriched uranium to reprocess into fuel for at least one nuclear bomb.
Amid the tensions, Israel is suspected of carrying out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites, as well as a prominent scientist.
On Monday, Mr Raisi directly threatened Israel.
He said if Israel decides to carry out its threats to destroy Iran’s nuclear programme, “they will see if anything from the Zionist regime will remain or not”.