US reportedly accusing Iran of violating nuclear sanctions

Tehran has secretly sought to obtain parts for Arak heavy-water facility, in contravention of restrictions, according to Foreign Policy

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

The future of Iran's Arak heavy-water IR-40 reactor is one of the major disagreement points between the US and the Islamic Republic. (Hamid Foroutan/ISNA/AFP/File)
The future of Iran's Arak heavy-water IR-40 reactor is one of the major disagreement points between the US and the Islamic Republic. (Hamid Foroutan/ISNA/AFP/File)

Washington has discreetly accused Iran of violating United Nations-imposed restrictions on purchasing materials for a nuclear facility, a US magazine reported Monday.

Washington has evidence that Iran is attempting to purchase equipment needed for its heavy-water reactor at Arak, but has not publicly addressed the reported non-compliance, Foreign Policy reported, citing parts of a document compiled by US officials.

Foreign Policy said it obtained portions of the confidential briefing, which does not name the US, that outlined the allegations of non-compliance.

The paper stated that the US delegation detected an “increase in procurement on behalf of the IR-40 Heavy Water Research Reactor at Arak.”

US officials are afraid that the heavy-water facility will be used to make nuclear weapons-grade plutonium.

The report on Iranian procurement activities was presented on November 7 by an unnamed country to an eight-member committee tasked with overseeing Iran’s compliance with UN sanctions.

Diplomatic sources confirmed to Foreign Policy that the United States presented the briefing to the UN compliance committee.

The facility has been at the center of talks between Iran and six world powers aimed at obtaining agreements to curb enrichment in exchange for sanctions relief.

The heavy-water unit would produce substantial amounts of plutonium that can be used as the fissile core of a missile. The US has sought a completely new kind of reactor that produces only minuscule amounts of plutonium. The Iranians would rather re-engineer it to produce less plutonium — but that process is reversible.

The sides agreed last month to extend talks until the end of June, and US Secretary of State John Kerry has praised Tehran for keeping to understandings reached a year ago as part of an interim deal.

“Iran has held up its end of the bargain,” Kerry said last month in Vienna as he announced a seven-month extension for the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran.

On Sunday, Kerry told a Washington audience that, before the deal, Iran “systematically over many years … did not address the world’s concerns about an illicit nuclear program.”

He said a “verified, negotiated agreement” was the best way to “resolve the international community’s legitimate concerns” as well as to prove that Iran’s “nuclear program is peaceful.”

The US mission to the United Nations declined to comment on the allegations, and the Iranian mission to the United Nations did not respond to Foreign Policy’s request for comment.

Iran insists the unfinished reactor, located 240 kilometers (145 miles) southwest of Tehran, is solely for research purposes.

It has already promised to make some modifications to the design of the heavy-water reactor to limit plutonium output.

The United States has proposed transforming Arak into a light-water reactor so that it produces far less plutonium, but Tehran has refused.

Iranian officials have said the design of the Arak reactor — whose construction is being supervised by the UN nuclear watchdog — will be modified to produce one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of plutonium a year instead of eight kilos as originally planned.

Officials in Israel and elsewhere have pointed to the development of the Arak plant as proof that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon, since plutonium is primarily used for weaponization.

Although Tehran has recently authorized increasing numbers of International Atomic Energy Agency inspections, it has yet to comply with the UN agency’s long-standing requests for information outlining Iran’s military involvement in its nuclear program.

Sanctions were imposed on Iran in 2006 by the UN Security Council in an effort to stop the development of a nuclear program, and were expanded in the following years to include a ban on banking transactions, import and export restrictions, freezes on Iranian assets, travel bans on specific individuals and arms embargoes.

The magazine’s report is likely to increase the domestic political unrest in the US, where both Democrats and Republicans have widely criticized concessions made by the Obama administration in the ongoing talks with Tehran.

Last week, outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Robert Menendez criticized the compromises made by the US and the other P5+1 countries and called for additional sanctions against Iran if a framework agreement is not reached by March 2015.

Vice President Joe Biden told American and Israeli leaders at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum on US-Israeli relations that now is not the time for lawmakers to pursue additional sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

“Should Iran violate the terms of our agreement, Congress and the administration could immediately impose new sanctions. And the president has made it clear that he’d be part of that. But now is not the right time to do that,” Biden said.

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