International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors found uranium particles at two Iranian nuclear sites that Iran tried to block access to, according to a Friday report.
Iranian authorities had stonewalled the inspectors from reaching the sites for seven months before the inspection, and Iranian officials have failed to explain the presence of the uranium, the Reuters news agency reported, citing diplomats familiar with the UN agency’s work.
The inspections took place in August and September of 2020, the report said. The IAEA keeps its findings secret and only shared the details of the find with a few countries.
The Wall Street Journal reported the suspicious findings earlier this month, without identifying the material.
The Reuters report did not identify the sites. Earlier reports said one of the sites was in Abadeh, south of Isfahan — a location that in September 2019 was flagged by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the site of an alleged secret nuclear facility. Iran denies that it seeks nuclear weapons; Netanyahu is adamant that the regime is fooling the world, and has said that a trove of nuclear documents concerning its rogue program, smuggled out of Tehran by the Mossad two years, proves Iran’s duplicity.
The sites the inspectors visited are believed to have been out of use for years. The IAEA and Western intelligence services all believe Iran had a clandestine nuclear weapons program until 2003, though Tehran denies ever attempting to obtain such weapons.
Enriched uranium can be utilized as part of the core of a nuclear weapon, and Iran is required to account for all of its uranium so inspectors can make sure it is not being used for weapons.
The IAEA asked Iran to explain the presence of the uranium particles, but Iranian authorities failed to adequately explain its presence, the report said.
A senior Iranian official told Reuters, “We have nothing to hide. That is why we allowed the inspectors to visit those sites.”
The Iranian ambassador to the IAEA, and the agency, both declined to comment on the report.
The uranium the inspectors found was not enriched, the report said, but could indicate there were clandestine nuclear activities or other hidden materials at the sites.
The findings, and Iran’s failure to explain them, may complicate the Biden administration’s efforts to resume negotiations with Iran. The new administration has repeatedly said it is willing to return to a “longer and stronger” version of the deal, if Iran first returns to compliance.
The landmark 2015 deal between Iran and the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France, and Germany to curb Tehran’s nuclear ambitions has been largely in tatters since former US president Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
Iran has since been steadily violating restrictions on the amount of uranium it can enrich and the purity it is allowed to enrich to, and other limits.
The White House formally announced on Thursday it was ready to resume discussions on the Iranian nuclear program, and US President Joe Biden said Friday in his first major foreign policy speech that his administration was ready to “reengage in negotiations” and also address Iran’s “destabilizing activities” in the Middle East.
Iran has demanded that the US lift sanctions before it returns to talks. It has also rejected discussing other issues, such as its regional activities.
Israeli leaders, including Netanyahu, have long opposed the nuclear agreement and repeatedly warned against the US returning to the deal.
In a statement Friday afternoon, Netanyahu said Israel believes the old agreement will “pave Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal.”
On Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the foreign ministers of Britain, Germany and France urged Iran to allow continued United Nations nuclear inspections and stop nuclear activities that have no credible civilian use. They warned that Iran’s actions could threaten delicate efforts to bring the US back into the 2015 deal and end sanctions damaging Iran’s economy.
Iran is “playing with fire,” said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who took part in the talks Thursday in Paris with his British and French counterparts. Blinken had joined via videoconference.
Iran has said it will stop part of IAEA inspections of its nuclear facilities next week if the West doesn’t implement its own commitments under the 2015 deal. The agency is also expected to put out a quarterly report on Iranian nuclear activities next week.