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UN watchdog warns Iran has enough nuclear material for ‘several’ bombs

IAEA chief Rafael Grossi says he may return to Iran to jumpstart ‘much needed’ talks to curb atomic program, notes ‘big, big impasse’

The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Grossi at a news conference with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the foreign ministry in Berlin, Germany, November 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
The Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Grossi at a news conference with German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock at the foreign ministry in Berlin, Germany, November 15, 2022. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

BRUSSELS, Belgium — The head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog said Tuesday he plans to go to Iran next month for “much needed” talks on getting it to resume cooperation over its nuclear activities and warned that Tehran has enough material for “several” weapons.

“I might be back in Tehran… in February, perhaps, for a much-needed political dialogue, or reestablishment thereof, with Iran,” Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told lawmakers in the European Parliament.

Such a trip would come at a bleak time for EU-mediated negotiations aimed at bringing back a 2015 agreement that was struck to curb Iran’s atomic activities in return for a lifting of international sanctions.

That accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, is moribund after the US under Donald Trump withdrew in 2018 and Tehran progressively rolled back its compliance.

Grossi noted the “big, big impasse” on the JCPOA and said that Iran’s own pullback from it — including disconnecting 27 IAEA cameras monitoring its declared nuclear sites — means the IAEA was no longer effectively monitoring Tehran’s nuclear program.

“I’ve been blind on this aspect for at least a year,” he said.

Illustrative: Photographers and TV cameramen watch a demonstration of a monitoring camera used in Iran during a press conference of Rafael Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about the current situation in Iran at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria on June 9, 2022. (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Grossi said he hopes to “be making some progress” on restoring Iranian cooperation with his agency during his planned visit.

Speaking about Iran’s recent atomic activities, including enriching uranium well past JCPOA-mandated limits toward a level needed for nuclear weapons, Grossi said: “That trajectory is certainly not a good one.”

As well as failing to explain to the IAEA radioactive traces found in locations that were not declared as nuclear sites, Iran’s growing stock of enriched uranium is of concern, he said.

“They have amassed enough nuclear material for several nuclear weapons — not one at this point,” he said, listing 70 kilograms of uranium enriched to 60 percent purity and 1,000 kilograms at 20%.

The threshold for making nuclear weapons is considered to be nearly 90% purity.

Grossi, however, noted that the big stockpile of enriched uranium “doesn’t mean they have a nuclear weapon.”

Building an atomic bomb would require designing and testing, he said.

“I’m not saying it is impossible. And I’m not saying we should be complacent,” he said.

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