The head of Iran’s atomic energy agency has been tipped by an analyst as a strong candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize thanks to his work on the nuclear deal with world powers, days after he boasted that the Islamic republic had increased the volume of its nuclear material despite the accord.

Kristian Berg Harpviken, director of Oslo’s Peace Research Institute, said Ali Akbar Salehi, along with US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, were second on his speculative list of candidates for this years award, behind NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. He also mentioned peace negotiators between the Columbian government and FARC rebels as possible candidates, should their talks result in an end to decades of civil war.

Harpviken called Moniz and Salehi “worthy and likely candidates… (who) used their shared background from MIT to reach an agreement in spite of the differences and long-lasting grievances that exist between their respective countries.”

He noted that the two “have received much of the credit for the (so far) considerable success of the Iran nuclear deal” and called their work “a fine example of science diplomacy.”

Secretary of State John Kerry and US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz sit across from Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Ali Akbar Salehi on February 22, 2015, in Geneva, Switzerland, before a four-way discussion about the future of Iran's nuclear program. (photo credit: US State Department)

Secretary of State John Kerry and US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz sit across from Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and Ali Akbar Salehi on February 22, 2015, in Geneva, Switzerland, before a four-way discussion about the future of Iran’s nuclear program. (photo credit: US State Department)

Last week, Salehi told members of Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations that the nuclear deal had in fact left the chief components of the country’s nuclear program intact, while securing international legitimacy for the program’s existence.

According to Iran’s Mehr news agency, Salehi said the accord “did not completely stymie the program, and we have only been slower in terms of progress.” He noted that in some areas Iran had even “accelerated the pace, including in the volume of nuclear material which was 550 tons before, now we have 770 tons of nuclear material. This is a fact known to (the International Atomic Energy Agency).”

The nuclear agency chief also highlighted the UN Security Council’s “acknowledgement and recognition of Iran’s nuclear program” as a major achievement for the nation.

Harpviken’s institute stressed in a press release that “his speculations do not confirm, nor endorse, any candidate, and are not in any manner based on privileged access to the decision-making of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. Neither the Director, nor the Institute he leads, have any form of association with the Nobel Institute or the Norwegian Nobel Committee.”

On Monday, Iran announced that it had gained access to more than $100 billion worth of frozen overseas assets following the implementation of the landmark nuclear deal with world powers.

Government spokesman Mohammad Bagher Nobakht said much of the money had been piling up in banks in China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey since international sanctions were tightened in 2012 over Tehran’s nuclear program.

AP contributed to this report.