BRUSSELS – The head of Iran’s nuclear agency said Tuesday that despite U.S. sanctions and efforts to isolate his country, Japan remains willing to continue cooperating with it on nuclear safety.
Japan “insisted that under any circumstance they would like to continue their operation in the domain of safety,” Ali Akbar Salehi, who heads the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said during an interview on the sidelines of a seminar in Brussels.
Officials from both sides met each other as recently as a few weeks ago, the former foreign minister said, while noting that Japan has already hosted training programs for Iranian scientists on safeguards and nuclear safety.
He said that, because nuclear accidents in any country could have impacts beyond its borders, it is important for the international community to be involved in nuclear safety.
Salehi praised Japan’s supportive stand regarding Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which Washington withdrew from in May before resurrecting economic sanctions on Tehran and pressuring other governments to follow suit.
He said he understands Japan’s delicate position vis-a-vis the United States.
At the same time, he urged it to put aside the “unnecessary caution” and restart or even expand cooperation with Iran in areas unaffected by the U.S.’s unilateral sanctions, such as the field of medical equipment and the “humanitarian side of the scientific technological cooperation.”
Salehi said Iran would like to see Japan play a more independent role.
“Japan can do a lot if it wishes. There are areas that has nothing to do with Americans, but the Japanese are very cautious in their actions when it comes to Iran,” he said.
He said Japan could also play a positive role by supporting European efforts to salvage the 2015 nuclear accord.
After the U.S. withdrawal, Iran said that it would continue its commitments so long as it sees economic benefits under the deal. It has given the European Union some time to come up with a solution.
While Iran is starting to lose patience, Salehi said he had positive meetings in Brussels and is optimistic that the Europeans will find a way to pay for continued Iranian oil exports despite U.S. sanctions affecting financial transactions.
He added that the two sides have agreed on a timeline.
Salehi said that if the nuclear deal breaks down, “The consequences will be unpredictable for everybody, even for ourselves, for the international community, for the region. Only God knows what is going to happen.”
If that happens, he warned, Iran stands ready to resume enrichment of uranium, which was suspended under the 2015 nuclear deal, to 20 percent purity at its nuclear facility in Natanz.
Noting that Iran now has the capacity to produce 190,000 separative work units of enriched uranium, he said, “We will do it very easily, but we don’t want to do that now. The capacity is there,” he added.
Under the deal struck between Iran and six major powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States — Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions.