UN atomic official in Iran as it runs advanced centrifuges

Iran is defending its decision to use advanced centrifuges prohibited by its unraveling 2015 nuclear deal with world powers

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.

That mirrored a line in a recent IAEA report on Iran that suggested Tehran wasn't as forthcoming answering questions as it hoped. Both the U.S. and Israel have been agitating the IAEA to look further into a warehouse where Israel says its spies seized secret material from Tehran's nuclear program.

Speaking on Europe 1 radio on Sunday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Iran's "disengagement" from the deal's terms was causing tensions, but added "the channels of dialogue remain open."

As Feruta visited Tehran, a top U.S. Treasury official traveled to the United Arab Emirates, where she heralded the sanctions the Trump administration already imposed on Iran's oil industry. Sigal P. Mandelker, the undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the U.S. Treasury, told journalists in Abu Dhabi the sanctions cut deeply into Iran's government revenues, without offering specifics, and new warnings had been issued to those who would purposefully or mistakenly buy Iranian crude oil.

"There's . no question that Iranian oil sales have taken a serious nosedive," she said.

However, she acknowledged that the Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya-1, which Gibraltar seized in July and later released, had in fact made it to Syria. Authorities there say Iran had promised the ship, which carries 2.1 million barrels of crude oil worth some $130 million, wouldn't go to Syria.

On Sunday, Iranian Foreign Ministry Abbas Mousavi told state TV that the ship had "docked on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea," without elaborating. He reiterated earlier comments by government officials that its cargo had been sold to an unnamed buyer. The state-run IRNA news agency separately quoted him as saying that the Adrian Darya-1 had unloaded its cargo.

"Right now it's parked right outside right outside of Syria," Mandelker said. "So it's yet another game of deception that we see them engaged in that we think the world needs to open its eyes to."


Gambrell reported from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Thomas Adamson in Paris and David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.