New IAEA report says Iran has boosted stockpile of highly enriched uranium

UN atomic watchdog also denies its cameras had a role in June attack on Iranian centrifuge plant, which the Islamic Republic has blamed on Israel; IAEA chief set to visit Tehran

Various centrifuge machines line a hall at the Natanz Uranium Enrichment Facility, on April 17, 2021. (Screenshot, Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting-IRIB, via AP)

Iran has increased its stockpile of highly enriched uranium, defying commitments made under the 2015 nuclear deal, the United Nations nuclear watchdog said in its latest report.

Its estimate of Iran’s stockpile, as of November 6, was many times in excess of the limit laid down in the 2015 agreement with world powers, said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report seen Wednesday by AFP.

The total amount now includes 113.8 kg (251 lbs) enriched to 20 percent, up from 84.3 (186 lbs) in September, and 17.7 kg (39 lbs) enriched up to 60%, up from 10 kg (22 lbs), the report says.

Such highly enriched uranium can be easily refined to make atomic weapons, which is why world powers have sought to contain Tehran’s nuclear program.

The Vienna-based agency told members that it is still not able to verify Iran’s exact stockpile of enriched uranium due to the limitations Tehran imposed on UN inspectors earlier this year.

The IAEA has been unable to access surveillance footage of Iranian nuclear sites or of online enrichment monitors and electronic seals since February. The agency’s chief, Rafael Mariano Grossi, told The Associated Press this month that the situation was like “flying in a heavily clouded sky.”

Grossi will visit Tehran next Monday to discuss Iran’s nuclear program, the spokesman for Iran’s atomic agency said, as several key dates approach.

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), during a press conference at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria, on May 24, 2021. (Alex Halada/AFP)

Grossi had expressed concern on November 12 over the lack of contact with the Iranian government, describing it as “astonishing.”

He said he had hoped to meet Iranian officials ahead of the next meeting of the IAEA’s Board of Governors, which was scheduled for next week.

“I have not had any contact with this government… that has been there for more than five months,” Grossi told reporters at the time, adding that the only exceptions had been “technical conversations” with Iran’s new atomic energy chief Mohamed Eslami.

Iran responded three days later by inviting the UN nuclear chief to Tehran.

The head of the agency “will arrive on the evening of Monday, November 22 in Tehran,” Iran’s atomic agency spokesman told Fars news agency Wednesday.

Grossi will meet Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and the head of Iran’s atomic agency, Mohamed Eslami on Tuesday, the spokesman added.

Grossi’s last visit to Tehran was in September, when he clinched a deal on access to monitoring equipment at Iran’s nuclear facilities.

But days later, the IAEA complained that it was prevented from “indispensable” access to a unit at the TESA complex in the city of Karaj, near Tehran, in violation of the September deal.

Iran’s ambassador to the IAEA however rejected the charge, tweeting that “equipment related to this complex are not included for servicing,” referring to IAEA work on its monitoring equipment.

Also Wednesday, the IAEA “categorically” denied that its cameras played a part in a June attack on the TESA complex, after Tehran said it was investigating the possibility. Iran has blamed the explosive drone attack on Israel.

The alleged Karaj centrifuge parts plant near Karaj, Iran, seen in a photo posted online by Google user Edward Majnoonian, in May 2019. (Screenshot/Google Maps)

Grossi’s visit next week comes ahead of the resumption on November 29 of nuclear talks in Vienna, stalled since June.

The talks aim to restore a 2015 deal that offered Tehran relief from sanctions in exchange for major curbs on its nuclear activities.

The United States unilaterally pulled out of the deal in 2018 under the administration of then-US president Donald Trump.

In response, Iran began in 2019 walking back on its commitments under the nuclear deal, notably increasing its uranium enrichment.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said Tuesday that Iran is “absolutely serious” about the nuclear talks, in a phone call with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

Raisi added that Iran is “equally serious about our people’s rights to have sanctions lifted.”

His foreign minister had earlier called on the West not to make “excessive demands” on Tehran in the talks, in a call with his Russian counterpart.

The Vienna talks will be attended by the remaining parties to the deal — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — while the US will participate in negotiations indirectly.

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