Diplomacy

Iran warned against provocation as temporary deal hashed out with IAEA

By Al-Mashareq and AFP

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International Atomic Energy Agency  chief Rafael Grossi (left) and Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif talk in Tehran on February 21. [Didarnews.ir]

Iran must refrain from any provocation as diplomatic efforts to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran continue, the head of US forces in the Middle East said during a Sunday (February 21) visit to the Gulf region.

"I would think this would be a good time for everybody to behave soberly and cautiously, and see what happens," said US Army Central Command (CENTCOM) commander Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, during a visit to Oman.

"We will be prepared for any eventuality, however," he added.

US President Joe Biden's administration, European powers and Iran have boosted attempts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

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A US B-52 bomber flies over the Middle East on January 27. [CENTCOM]

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi travelled to Iran on Saturday for negotiations with President Hassan Rouhani's government.

After the talks, Grossi on Sunday announced a "temporary solution" to allow Iranian facility inspections to continue.

Hardline opposition to IAEA deal

Based on the new agreement with the IAEA, the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI) said, Iran will hold onto recordings from monitoring equipment installed at sites by the IAEA for the next three months.

But it will not release the information unless sanctions are lifted within that timeframe, it added, and if sanctions remain, the data will be erased.

Iran's foreign ministry also said it is considering the EU co-ordinator's invitation to participate "as a guest party" in multilateral talks to discuss the 2015 deal.

A group of Iran's hardliners, who are displeased with the Rouhani administration's deal with the IAEA, protested the talks over the weekend, during Grossi's visit to Tehran.

On Monday, Iran's parliament (Majles), comprised of a hardline majority, filed a formal complaint against the Rouhani administration for reaching a deal with the IAEA ahead of the lifting of US sanctions on Iran.

Citing a "clear violation of the law", the Majles called on Iran's judiciary to step in and stop the government from co-operating with the IAEA.

The Majles had passed a bill into law late last year banning IAEA inspections, effective Tuesday, if US sanctions on Iran are not lifted.

In Monday's press briefing, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman insisted the law has not been broken, and the deal with the IAEA was reached based on the law.

While Iran's hardline lawmakers have expressed their desire for sanctions to be lifted prior to a move towards nuclear negotiations with world powers, reports from Iran indicate most of the population is in favour of negotiations.

The Iranian people are under tremendous economic pressure, with a Statistical Centre of Iran report recording the point-to-point inflation for groceries and essential goods at 67% for the 30-day period ending February 18.

Warning against 'nefarious activity'

McKenzie urged Iran not to undertake any "nefarious activities" as it seeks to rebuild trust.

"I think they would want to be recognised as a responsible member of the family of nations and a stable member in the region," he said.

The US and others have accused Iran of destabilising the region through financial and military support for its proxies in Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

The US also accuses the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) of disrupting maritime traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of the world's oil output passes.

The Strait of Hormuz was the focus of McKenzie's visit to Oman, during which he met with the sultanate's new chief of staff, Rear Admiral Abdallah Ben Khamis al-Raissi, and visited the naval base at Khassab.

Last month, US B-52 bombers conducted multiple flyovers in the Middle East as part of a series of military maneuvers in the region.

The flyovers are intended "to demonstrate the US military's ability to deploy airpower anywhere in the world to deter potential aggression and showcase the US commitment to regional security", US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a January 27 statement.

"We do not seek conflict, but no one should underestimate our ability to defend our forces or to act decisively in response to any attack," McKenzie said December 30.

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