Iran’s ‘ambitious’ nuclear program ‘moving ahead very, very fast,’ warns IAEA head

UN nuclear chief Rafael Grossi urges more transparency from Tehran, says ‘good words’ not enough

Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), speaks at the start of the tenth annual review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at UN headquarters on August 01, 2022 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)
Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), speaks at the start of the tenth annual review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at UN headquarters on August 01, 2022 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

Iran’s nuclear program is “moving ahead very, very fast” and “good words” from Tehran are not enough for international inspectors, said the head of the UN nuclear watchdog on Tuesday.

Speaking at UN headquarters Tuesday, IAEA head Rafael Grossi said, “”When it comes to nuclear, good words will not do it. What you need to do is to be transparent and compliant and work with us. We are ready and I hope they will be as well,” Reuters reported.

Iran, he said, has a “very ambitious nuclear program that needs to be verified in the appropriate way.

“The program is moving ahead very, very fast and not only ahead, but sideways as well, because it’s growing in ambition and in capacity,” added Grossi.

Talks between Iran and world powers, chiefly the US, about reviving the 2015 nuclear accords have been stalled for months. Iran has meanwhile ramped up its uranium enrichment with new, more advanced centrifuges.

Grossi warned last month that Iran’s program was “advancing at a gallop and we have very little visibility.”

This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows Iran’s underground Natanz nuclear site, as well as ongoing construction to expand the facility in a nearby mountain south of Natanz. Iran, May 9, 2022. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

The IAEA reported in June that Iran has 43 kilograms of uranium enriched to 60% purity — a short step to 90%. Nonproliferation experts warn that’s enough fissile material for one nuclear weapon if Iran chose to pursue it.

Last month, Iran also removed 27 surveillance cameras from nuclear sites in the country, with the IAEA saying this raised the risk of its inspectors being unable to track Tehran’s advances.

Grossi’s comments on Tuesday came a day after the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Mohammed Eslami, said Iran could produce an atomic bomb, but is not interested in doing so, according to a report by the semi-official Fars news agency.

Mohammad Eslami, new head of Iran’s nuclear agency (AEOI) talks on stage at the International Atomic Energy’s (IAEA) General Conference in Vienna, Austria, Sept. 20, 2021. (AP Photo/Lisa Leutner)

Eslami did not elaborate on Tehran’s nuclear capabilities and appeared to be reiterating comments made last month by Kamal Kharazi, a top aide to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. “As Mr. Kharazi mentioned, Iran has the technical ability to build an atomic bomb, but such a program is not on the agenda,” Eslami said, according to the report.

The 2015 Iran nuclear deal, officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), provided Tehran with relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program. It was signed between Iran and the US, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany.

In 2018, the Trump administration pulled out of the pact — saying it did not go far enough to prevent Iran from producing nuclear weapons and also due to its concerns over Iran’s missile development program. Washington reimposed stiff sanctions on Iran, which responded by dropping many of its own commitments to the deal, ramping up its nuclear activities and in particular increasing uranium enrichment beyond the limits of the JCPOA.

European-sponsored talks in Vienna this year to bring the US back into the JCPOA have stalled for months and another recent round of negotiations in July between Iran and the US in Qatar also failed to make progress.

Israel, which opposes a US return to the JCPOA, has threatened to act alone in striking Iranian facilities if it feels there is an existential threat to the Jewish state from Iran equipping itself with nuclear weapons.

US President Joe Biden takes his leave of Prime Minister Yair Lapid before departing Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport on July 15, 2022 for Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (Amos Ben Gershom / GPO)

During US President Joe Biden’s trip to the region in July, Biden and Prime Minister Yair Lapid signed a joint strategic declaration, in which the US vowed to use “all elements in its national power” to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Last week, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Israel has the ability to cause serious damage to Iran’s nuclear program, and warned that reviving a 2015 pact with world powers to curb Iranian nuclear activities will only be a delaying tactic.

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