With the chances of a return to the 2015 nuclear deal fading, Iran has progressed with producing uranium metal, the UN nuclear watchdog said on Monday.
“On 14 August 2021, the Agency verified… that Iran had used 257g of uranium enriched up to 20% U-235 in the form of UF4 (uranium tetrafluoride) to produce 200g of uranium metal enriched up to 20% U-235,” the International Atomic Energy Agency wrote, according to Reuters.
Uranium metal can be used as a component in nuclear weapons. Iran had signed up to a 15-year ban on “producing or acquiring plutonium or uranium metals or their alloys,” under the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed in 2015 with world powers.
Iran previously told the UN nuclear watchdog that it was advancing research on uranium metal production, saying it is aimed at providing advanced fuel for a research reactor in Tehran.
The IAEA added that the move was step three in a four-step plan, the fourth being the production of a reactor fuel plate, according to Reuters.
But Iran has insisted its nuclear activities are peaceful and that it is not aiming at building a weapon.
Former United States president Donald Trump pulled out of the deal in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions that have choked Iran’s oil-dependent economy. Iran has responded by walking back measures it had agreed to abide by, including enriching uranium to unprecedented levels, near weapons-grade.
Talks kicked off in April in Vienna to find a way to bring both parties back to the deal. But the last round took place on June 20, with no date set for when they would resume. The EU chairs the meetings.
US President Joe Biden, Trump’s successor, has signaled his readiness to return to the nuclear deal and has engaged in indirect negotiations with Iran alongside formal talks with the agreement’s remaining parties, Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia.
Israel has long opposed the nuclear deal and Biden’s stated intentions to reenter the treaty.
A return to the 2015 deal seems more unlikely as tensions have risen, notably with an attack by drones last month on an Israeli-linked tanker off Oman that killed a Briton and a Romanian national on board.
The G7 — the US, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan — blamed the attack on Iran, which denies the accusation.