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Iran begins restricting international inspections of nuclear plants

Iran has officially begun restricting international inspections of its nuclear facilities, following a law passed in parliament.

The move is thought to be a bid to pressure western countries, including the US under new president Joe Biden, to lift economic sanctions and restore the 2015 nuclear deal, which former US president Donald Trump pulled out of.

An Iranian state TV report said reduced cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had begun.

“The law has gone into effect from this (Tuesday) morning,” said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, reiterating that Iran would no longer share surveillance footage of its nuclear facilities on a daily and weekly basis as in the past.

“We had informed the IAEA about implementation of the law.”

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Tehran’s civilian nuclear agency, has promised to keep the footage for three months, then hand it over to the IAEA – but only if granted sanctions relief.

The IAEA’s director general Rafael Grossi paid an emergency visit to Iran on the weekend in a bid to preserve his inspectors’ ability to monitor the country’s nuclear programme.

As part of a temporary deal, Grossi said the agency would maintain the same number of inspectors on the ground, but inspectors would no longer be able to conduct so-called “snap” inspections of nuclear sights as easily as before.

Blocking the cameras also means the agency can’t monitor what’s happening when inspectors aren’t physically at a site.

The Trump administration pulled out of the nuclear deal nearly three years ago, imposing sanctions that have squeezed Iran’s economy.

Iran has announced gradual breaches of the agreement over recent weeks, such as enriching uranium up to 20% purity, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels, as well as spinning advanced centrifuges and producing uranium metal.

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 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 US pressure over its nuclear program.

Khamenei said that Iran could enrich uranium up to 60% purity if necessary, but reiterated the country forbids nuclear weapons.

Tehran has long insisted that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, such as power generation and medical research.

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