Iran vowed to block snap inspections of its nuclear plants by the UN atomic watchdog from next week unless the US returns to the 2015 nuclear deal.
The threat made mon Monday is the latest move in Tehran's game of brinkmanship over the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the agreement to curb its nuclear program in return for an easing of economic sanctions, Arab News reported.
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said on Monday: "If others do not fulfil their obligations by February 21, the government is obliged to suspend the voluntary implementation of the additional protocol. All these steps are reversible if the other party changes its path and honors its obligations."
While Tehran is taking a hard line in its public challenges to the US, Iranian officials have admitted that US sanctions are crippling the country's economy, and it may be forced to compromise on compliance with the JCPOA.
Former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the JCPOA in 2018 and reimposed sanctions, since when Iran has escalated its breaches of the agreement by increasing its enrichment of uranium. Trump's successor Joe Biden has said he wants to return to the deal, but Washington and Tehran both insist that the other should make the first move.
In an additional protocol to the JCPOA, Iran agreed that inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency could make unannounced visits to its nuclear facilities to check compliance with the deal.
On the other hand, while Iran denies that it wants nuclear weapons, its Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi said last week that persistent Western pressure could push Tehran to fight back like a "cornered cat" and try to build a bomb.
Other Iranian officials on Monday rebuked the minister for the veiled threat. "Iran's position remains unchanged. Iran's nuclear activities have always been peaceful and will remain peaceful," the Foreign Ministry said, quoting a fatwa supposedly issued by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Nevertheless the Tehran regime clearly has something to hide, the Saudi political analyst Dr Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News. "We are monitoring the situation anxiously as we see a gradual escalation from Iran's side," he said.
"Recently they said they had increased the number of centrifuges and were enriching uranium to 20 percent, which is dangerous. Then we heard that Iran had started producing uranium metal, and that is another danger. And just a few days ago, Iran said it might be 'cornered' into making a nuclear weapon.
"Preventing IAEA inspectors from doing their job is evidence that Iran has something to hide, and is intending to announce they possess a nuclear bomb."