TEHRAN, Iran — Iran defended Sunday its decision to use advanced centrifuges prohibited by its unraveling 2015 nuclear deal with world powers as a visiting top official of the United Nations atomic watchdog urged Tehran to offer "time and active cooperation" with his inspectors.
The visit and careful comments by Cornel Feruta, the acting director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, show the pressure his organization is now under as Iran steps further away from the deal the IAEA is meant to monitor.
Also Sunday, a top U.S. Treasury official visiting Abu Dhabi insisted that Iran's oil exports "have taken a serious nosedive" after President Donald Trump withdrew America from the accord and imposed sanctions on its energy industry. Her comments came as Iran acknowledged its oil tanker pursued by the U.S. had "docked on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea" after satellite pictures showed it off the coast of Syria, despite a pledge by Tehran it wouldn't go there after being seized.
Iran has already crept past limits the deal imposed on nuclear enrichment and its uranium stockpile. It is trying to pressure Europe to find a way to sell crude oil abroad despite U.S. sanctions.
Meanwhile, mysterious attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, Iran shooting down a U.S. military surveillance drone and other incidents across the wider Middle East followed Trump's decision.
Feruta met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's nuclear program, while in Tehran. He is serving as the IAEA's acting director after the death of late director-general Yukiya Amano in July.
While Iran continues to pull away from the deal, Tehran has made clear it wants IAEA inspectors to continue their work. But officials blamed European leaders for being unable so far to offer a way for Iran to sell its crude oil around U.S. sanctions. A proposal by France to offer a $15 billion line of credit failed to materialize. China, Britain, France, Germany and Russia all were parties to the accord.
"There is the issue of the European Union, which was supposed to fill the vacuum created after America (left the deal) but unfortunately they could not act the way they had promised," Salehi said.
He added: "They have put us in a complicated and critical situation."
For his part, Feruta followed the same careful pattern of the late Amano by trying to say as little as he could.
"We do of course express the view that timely and active cooperation is very important, and also the fact that time is very important," he said.