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Germany, France, UK press Iran to provide atomic site access

BERLIN (AP) — The board of the United Nations' atomic watchdog agency on Friday adopted a resolution calling for Iran to provide inspectors access to sites where the country is thought to have stored or used undeclared nuclear material, the Russian representative said.

Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s ambassador to international organizations in Vienna, tweeted that his country and China had voted against the resolution that Germany, France and Britain proposed at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency board.

“We believe that the resolution can be counterproductive,” Ulyanov said, while also “stressing the need for Tehran and IAEA to settle this problem without delay.” Earlier this week, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi reiterated concerns that for more than four months Iran had denied his inspectors access to two locations " to clarify our questions related to possible undeclared nuclear material and nuclear-related activities.”

Activities at the sites are thought to have been from the early 2000s, before Iran signed the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Iran maintains the International Atomic Energy Agency has no legal basis to inspect them.

The agency has said that Iran continues to provide access to sites covered by the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. Iran's representative to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, said his country rejected the resolution.

“We do not consider this resolution acceptable at all,” he said. “This resolution cannot create any legal obligation for the Islamic Republic of Iran in cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency to grant the two accesses.”

Since the United States withdrew unilaterally from the deal in 2018, the other signatories — Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China — have been struggling to save it. Meanwhile, Iran has been violating its restrictions, including the amount of uranium it can enrich and the purity of enrichment, to try to pressure those countries to provide additional economic relief to offset American sanctions.

It is not clear what effect the new resolution will have on the JCPOA, but Iran threatened unspecified consequences. “The Islamic Republic of Iran will take appropriate action and respond to this resolution,” Gharibabadi said.

Iran’s foreign ministry described the resolution as an “unconstructive, irresponsible and unacceptable action,” the state-run IRNA news agency reported. Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi accused Britain, France and Germany of creating tension between Iran and the IAEA and trying to avoid “their responsibilities based on the nuclear deal.”

In a tweet, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif urged the three nations to “muster the courage to state publicly what they admit privately: their failure to fulfill even own JCPOA duties due to total impotence in resisting US bullying.”

China's ambassador to international organizations, Wang Qun, told board members he was “deeply concerned” about both Grossi's decision to openly express concerns about being denied access and the resolution that was passed.

He said, according to a copy of his statement provided to The Associated Press, that it could “set forth a process, under the current circumstances, that may bring the Iranian nuclear issue back to a crossroad full of uncertainties again.”

The foreign ministers of Germany, France and Britain discussed Iran at a meeting in Berlin later Friday and issued a statement noting that the resolution passed with a “very strong majority.” The American representative, Jackie Wolcott, said the U.S. had supported the resolution and that the ball was now in Iran's court.

“The fact of the matter is this is entirely Iran's decision,” she said in a conference call with reporters. “They could fix this overnight if they would just decide to comply with their obligations with the IAEA.”

Germany, France and Britain in January invoked a dispute resolution mechanism designed to resolve issues with the 2015 deal or refer them to the U.N. Security Council. On Friday, their foreign ministers said that “we will seek a ministerial meeting to urge Iran to cooperate and to take stock of where we stand” in that process.

If no resolution is found, the process could result in the resumption of U.N. and European Union sanctions on Iran. But the ministers warned against trying to force the reimposition of sanctions. “We firmly believe that any unilateral attempt to trigger U.N. sanctions snapback would have serious adverse consequences” in the U.N. Security Council, they said. “We would not support such a decision which would be incompatible with our current efforts to preserve the JCPOA.”

Associated Press writers Geir Moulson in Berlin, and Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.

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