Saudis Criticize Iran at Nuclear Agency Meeting

Copyright © 2021 Energy Intelligence Group

Saudi Arabia's energy minister has criticized Iran for failing to fully comply with its international nuclear obligations, while reaffirming the kingdom's own commitment to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

"The kingdom has concerns over Iran's lack of complete compliance with commitments … and its lack of transparency with the agency, which threatens the treaty on non-proliferation," Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said on Monday.

The Saudi minister was speaking during the general conference of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Monday.

Prince Abdulaziz said Saudi Arabia was committed to the NPT and urged the international community to help prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, which he said would contribute to instability in the region and the entire world.

The minister also expressed concerns about Israel's nuclear program, saying it also posed a threat to regional stability. Nuclear power should only be used for the benefit of humanity and not to make weapons, he added.

Regional Rivals

Saudi Arabia and Iran have been locked in a struggle for regional dominance for many years, and the kingdom's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman warned in 2018 that if Iran develops a nuclear bomb, "we will follow as soon as possible."

Iran insists that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. But there have been suspicions that it has made covert efforts to develop a nuclear bomb, prompting the UN Security Council, the US and the EU to impose crippling sanctions from 2010.

Prince Abdulaziz's comments came a week after Tehran averted a deeper crisis with the IAEA by agreeing to provide greater insight into its nuclear activity and continuing to cooperate with the agency.

That has kept hopes alive for a return to the stalled US-Iran nuclear talks in Vienna, which seek to bring both Iran and the US back into compliance with the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement that lifted sanctions on Tehran.

The US subsequently reimposed unilateral sanctions against Iran, including a ban on imports of its oil, while Iran responded by dialing back its compliance with the 2015 pact. Other countries have also stopped importing Iranian oil to avoid US reprisals.

Tehran's recent agreement with the IAEA averted an immediate crisis, but it's unclear how Iran's new hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi will approach the talks with the US, which began after Joe Biden succeeded Donald Trump as US president this year.

US-Iran Talks

Raisi has said he wants to continue the nuclear talks with Washington, but stressed that he would not be pressured into doing so. It's currently unclear if and when a new round of negotiations might be held.

Mohammad Eslami, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told the IAEA conference, that Raisi's government "wants results-oriented negotiations with the goal of lifting the unjust pressure and sanctions imposed on the Iranian nation."

The 2015 nuclear agreement — formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — is "a clear example of Iran's goodwill," which the US "violated with complete disregard," he said.

"Nuclear safety has also been a priority for Iran, and Iran has always complied with the provisions of nuclear safety," Eslami said.

In comments that appeared directed toward Israel, he said "an attack against nuclear installations used for peaceful purposes is contrary to international law. Regrettably, the inaction of the UN and IAEA ... has emboldened perpetrators."

Iranian officials have accused Israel of trying to sabotage some if its nuclear facilities to derail the Vienna talks with the US. They also blamed Israel for an attack on Iran's Natanz enrichment facility in April during an early phase of the talks.

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