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IAEA chief: Iran moving rapidly to enrich uranium, mere ‘weeks’ to save deal

Nuclear watchdog head Grossi says if talks are held when Biden takes office, ‘there will have to be clear understanding on how initial terms of accord will be recomplied with’

Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Mariano Grossi at the IAEA board of governors meeting at the International Center in Vienna, Austria, September 14, 2020. (Ronald Zak/AP)
Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Rafael Mariano Grossi at the IAEA board of governors meeting at the International Center in Vienna, Austria, September 14, 2020. (Ronald Zak/AP)

The head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog said Monday that there were “weeks” left to salvage the nuclear deal with Iran.

Rafael Grossi, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said at the Reuters Next conference that Tehran was advancing “quite rapidly” toward enriching uranium to 20 percent, as it has announced it would, in breach of the accord. He said the IAEA has assessed Iran will be able to produce some 10 kilograms a month.

“It is clear that we don’t have many months ahead of us [to save the deal]. We have rather weeks,” he said.

If talks between the signatories of the accord are launched, “there will have to be a clear understanding on how the initial terms and provisions of the [nuclear deal] are going to be recomplied with,” Grossi said.

The comments came two days after Iranian lawmaker Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani declared that Tehran would expel IAEA inspectors in February unless the US lifts its sanctions on the country.

“If the sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran are not lifted by February 21, especially in the fields of finance, banking, and oil, we will definitely expel the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors from the country,” said Farahani in a television interview, according to an English translation of his remarks by the Mehr news agency.

UN inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites are a key part of a 2015 pact with world powers that saw sanctions lifted from Iran in return for its dismantling the weapons aspects of its nuclear program.

The United States unilaterally withdrew from the agreement in 2018, and the remaining countries that signed it with Iran — Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia — have been trying to keep the accord from collapsing. The Trump administration imposed crippling sanctions on Iran while demanding it renegotiate stricter terms to the deal. Iran has refused and responded by walking back its own commitments to the accord.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at Georgia Tech, in Atlanta, December 9, 2020. (John Bazemore/ AP)

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded to Farahani in a statement on Saturday that Iran has an obligation to allow the inspections to continue.

“Nuclear brinksmanship will not strengthen Iran’s position, but instead lead to further isolation and pressure,” Pompeo warned and urged that expulsion of the inspectors “be met by universal condemnation.”

On Sunday, the speaker of Iran’s parliament said that the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action “is not a sacred agreement; it is merely a deal to remove sanctions under the conditions accepted by the Islamic Republic.”

Last month, Iran began enriching uranium to levels unseen since the 2015 deal. The decision appeared aimed at increasing Tehran’s leverage during US President Donald Trump’s waning days in office.

Iran informed the IAEA of its plans to increase enrichment to 20 percent. Increasing enrichment at its underground Fordo facility puts Tehran a technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%.

The purpose of the deal was to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb — something Tehran insists it does not want to do.

US President-elect Joe Biden has said he hopes to return the US to the deal if Iran returns to compliance with it.

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