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Iran threatens to cut off cooperation with international nuclear watchdog

Iran's President Rouhani also hints at disrupting oil shipments from neighbouring countries
Rouhani says US sanctions against Iran are 'crime and aggression' (Reuters)

Iran may reduce its co-operation with the UN nuclear watchdog, President Hassan Rouhani told the body's head on Wednesday, after warning US President Donald Trump of "consequences" of any fresh sanctions against Iranian oil sales.

In May, Trump pulled out of a multinational deal under which sanctions on Iran were lifted in return for curbs to its nuclear programme, verified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Washington has since told countries they must stop buying Iranian oil from 4 November or face financial measures.

"Iran’s nuclear activities have always been for peaceful purposes, but it is Iran that will decide on its level of cooperation with the IAEA," Iranian state news agency IRNA quoted Rouhani as saying after meeting IAEA head Yukiya Amano in Vienna.

"The responsibility for the change of Iran's cooperation level with the IAEA falls on those who have created this new situation,” Rouhani added.

Earlier in the day, Rouhani said that Tehran would stand firm against US threats to cut Iranian oil sales.

"The Americans say they want to reduce Iranian oil exports to zero ... It shows they have not thought about its consequences," Rouhani was quoted as saying by IRNA.

On Tuesday, Rouhani hinted at the disruption of oil shipments from neighbouring countries if Washington tries to cut Iran's exports.

He did not elaborate, but an Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander explicitly said on Wednesday that Iran would block any exports of crude from the Gulf in retaliation for hostile US action.

"If they want to stop Iranian oil exports, we will not allow any oil shipment to pass through the Strait of Hormuz,” Ismail Kowsari was quoted as saying by the Young Journalists Club (YJC) website.

Rouhani, in Vienna trying to salvage the nuclear deal, said US sanctions were a "crime and aggression," and called on European and other governments to stand up to Trump.

"Iran will survive this round of US sanctions as it has survived them before. This US government will not stay in office forever ... But history will judge other nations based on what they do today," he said.

Rouhani told reporters that if the remaining signatories - Britain, France and Germany as well as China and Russia - can guarantee Iran's benefits: "Iran will remain in the nuclear deal without the United States."

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The European Union, once Iran's biggest oil importer, has vowed to keep the 2015 deal alive without the United States by trying to keep Iran's oil and investment flowing. But European officials acknowledge that US sanctions make it difficult to give Tehran guarantees.

Foreign ministers from the five remaining signatories will meet Iranian officials in Vienna on Friday to discuss how to keep the accord alive.

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Europe on Wednesday to take a harsher stance against Tehran after an Iranian diplomat was arrested on suspicion of plotting to attack an Iranian opposition group in France.

An Austria-based Iranian diplomat was held in Germany, one of four people arrested on suspicion of plotting to bomb a meeting of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI).

"It was no coincidence that this attack was thwarted," Netanyahu said during a speech in northern Israel.

"I call on the leaders of Europe: stop financing the terrorist regime that is financing terrorism against you on your soil. Enough with the policy of appeasement and weakness regarding Iran."