Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi has said an investigation by the global nuclear watchdog into “safeguards issues”, relating to nuclear particles found at Iranian nuclear sites, needs to end if an agreement on restoring the country’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers is to be clinched.
“Without resolving safeguards issues, talking about an agreement would be meaningless,” Raisi asserted at a news conference in Tehran on Monday, marking a year as president.
Asked if he would meet United States President Joe Biden during his upcoming trip to New York for the United Nations General Assembly, Raisi reiterated his “no” answer from his first news conference with foreign media shortly after being elected as president last year.
Such a meeting would “have no benefit for the people and interests of Iran”, he said.
Traces of nuclear particles were found years ago at several Iranian nuclear sites, and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi has repeatedly demanded “full cooperation” from Tehran as the only way to close the investigation.
Since Iran, the US and other world powers reconvened in Vienna earlier this month for talks on restoring the nuclear deal, which Washington unilaterally abandoned in 2018, there has been speculation that Tehran has abandoned its demand that the investigation be concluded.
Comments from Raisi and other Iranian officials in recent days signal that Tehran has not backed away from the demand, but may be open to having it negotiated in the text of the agreement.
Nournews, an outlet affiliated with Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, on Monday reported that the Iranian demand to “verify” the effective lifting of sanctions by the US also extends to the safeguards issue.
“Naturally, the [verification] process about all the commitments of the other sides, including shutting down the safeguards cases claimed by the agency, must be predicted in a potential agreement,” it wrote.
Reuters news agency quoted an unnamed US official as saying Iran had emphasised that it reserves the right not to implement its side of a potential agreement if the issue is not resolved.
Known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the nuclear deal introduced curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for lifting sanctions.
Talks to restore the accord began in Vienna in April 2021, and have gained more momentum in the past month after a “final” text was produced by the European Union, around which Tehran and Washington are indirectly negotiating.
During his news conference, the Iranian president also addressed recent efforts to reconnect with rival Saudi Arabia.
“The Arabian side has some commitments, and implementing these commitments would open the way for more efforts,” Raisi said without elaborating.
“Certainly, diplomatic relations are tied to the implementation of these commitments, which are being pursued.”
Tehran and Riyadh have held five rounds of direct negotiations at the level of security officials since April 2021 mediated and hosted by Iraq, and there has been hope that a next round could be held openly at the foreign minister level.
There have been unconfirmed reports that a sixth round of the talks has been held up due to ongoing political turmoil in Iraq.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein arrived in Tehran early on Monday and held talks with his Iranian counterpart, Hossein Amirabdollahian. The talks were expected to deal with the situation in Iraq and relations with Saudi Arabia.
Iran and Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties in 2016 after a Shia religious leader was executed by the Sunni-majority kingdom and led to a storming of Saudi diplomatic missions in Iran.
The United Arab Emirates and Kuwait also cut ties with Iran in solidarity, but both restored their ambassadors to Tehran earlier this month in a sign of improving relations.