IAEA ‘cannot assure’ Iran nuke program peaceful; Tehran has enough material for bomb

With country’s enriched uranium stockpile now 19 times the 2015 limit, head of nuclear watchdog is ‘increasingly concerned’

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), updates journalists about the situation in Iran in Vienna, Austria, June 9, 2022. (Joe Klamar/AFP)
Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), updates journalists about the situation in Iran in Vienna, Austria, June 9, 2022. (Joe Klamar/AFP)

VIENNA, Austria — The UN’s nuclear watchdog said Wednesday it could not guarantee the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program, saying there had been “no progress” in resolving questions over the past presence of nuclear material at undeclared sites.

In a report seen by AFP, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it was “not in a position to provide assurance that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.”

And a senior diplomat told the Reuters news agency that the uranium amount was enough — if enriched further — to construct a nuclear bomb.

The IAEA also said Iran was continuing to enrich uranium well over the limits laid down in the ailing 2015 deal, with its stockpile now over 19 times the limit set out in the accord.

The stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent is now 55.6 kilos, up from 43.1 kilos, the IAEA said. That level of enrichment is much closer to the 90-percent threshold required for use in a weapon.

“Iran now can produce 25 kilograms [of uranium] at 90% if they want to,” the unnamed diplomat told the agency. This, the diplomat said, could be done within three to four weeks if Tehran decided to (building a deliverable bomb would take longer, perhaps as long as two years).

The IAEA report said Director General Rafael Grossi was “increasingly concerned that Iran has not engaged with the Agency on the outstanding safeguards issues during this reporting period and, therefore, that there has been no progress towards resolving them.”

The IAEA has been pressing Iran for answers on the presence of nuclear material at three undeclared sites.

Tehran, which maintains that its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful, is insisting that the IAEA probe be closed in order to revive the 2015 deal on its nuclear program with world powers.

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 report said Iran’s total stockpile as of August 21 stood at an estimated 3,940 kilograms, up 131.6 kilograms from the last quarterly report.

The Vienna-based IAEA said it was unable to verify the exact size of Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium due to limitations that Tehran imposed on UN inspectors last year and the removal of the agency’s monitoring and surveillance equipment in June at sites in Iran.

While Iran long has maintained its program is peaceful, officials now openly discuss Tehran’s ability to seek an atomic bomb if it wanted.

The IAEA’s assessment comes amid efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which eased sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

The United States unilaterally pulled out of the accord in 2018 under then-president Donald Trump and reimposed sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to start backing away from the deal’s terms.

Iran last week sent a written response in negotiations over a final draft of a roadmap for parties to return to the tattered nuclear deal, though the US cast doubt on Tehran’s offer. Neither side elaborated on the contents.

Iranian deputy foreign minister Reza Najafi, left, and Iranian AEOI spokesperson Behrouz Kamalvandi, seen leaving the Palais Coburg where closed-door nuclear talks took place in Vienna, Austria, August 5, 2022. (AP/Florian Schroetter)

Were the deal to be renewed, the IAEA report said, the lack of surveillance and monitoring since IAEA cameras were removed in June would require “remedial action” to reestablish its knowledge of Iran’s activities during this period.

On Wednesday, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew sister site Zman Yisrael reported that the deal is likely off the table after Iran made new demands Washington refuses to accept.

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