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UN wants quick response from Iran on expired nuclear monitoring deal

The temporary arrangement, agreed upon in February, allowed the UN nuclear watchdog to monitor Iran's uranium enrichment activities
The Natanz nuclear facility is used to enrich uranium. The nuclear deal aims to prevent Iran from enriching at high levels that can be used to nuclear weapons (AFP)

The United Nations has urged Iran to quickly renew the agreement, which expired on Thursday, authorising its nuclear watchdog to monitor Iran's nuclear programme.

Iran reduced its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in February, but the agreement had allowed the agency to continue collecting data on some of Iran's nuclear activities.

"An immediate response from Iran is needed in this regard," the IAEA said in a statement summarising a report by its chief, Rafael Grossi, to its 35-nation Board of Governors.

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The United States and Iran have been negotiating a return to the international nuclear deal aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, which was jeopardised when then US president Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement and imposed harsh sanctions on Iran. In response, Tehran has abandoned commitments made under the deal. 

Washington believes that by not engaging with the IAEA, Iran would contradict its claims that it wants to resume the nuclear deal as soon as possible, a US State Department official told Reuters, but Iran said it was not obligated to provide the agency with a response. 

The US has said there are differences of opinion that are preventing the revival of deal, claiming the decision lies with Iran.

But Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the responsibility lies with the US, which must lift all sanctions for the deal to resume. 

"The US and the Europeans know best that Iran made its decision by remaining in the agreement and made it survive when the US unilaterally withdrew from the JCPOA and imposed illegal and oppressive sanctions against the Iranian people," said Khatibzadeh, in comments reported by semi-official news agency FARS. 

Earlier this week he said Iran had already signed the 2015 nuclear deal and had no intention of negotiating a new one. 

The monitoring agreement with the IAEA was struck in February on a three-month basis after Iran ended cooperation with the agency as part of its staggered withdrawal from the nuclear deal. In May, the deal was extended by one month, but it was not renewed on June 24. 

The agreement allowed the agency to monitor in real-time Iran's uranium enrichment, to observe assembly and storage of centrifuges, and to monitor uranium ore production and acquisition. 

Though Iran still insists it has no ambitions to build nuclear weapons, it has exceeded the levels of uranium enrichment agreed under the deal in protest against the US sanctions, approaching the high levels required for weapons. 

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