Wednesday July 17, 2024

Iran’s near-bomb-grade uranium stock grows, talks stall, IAEA reports say

By Reuters
May 28, 2024
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi speaks during an interview with Reuters in Tokyo, Japan, March 12, 2024. — Reuters
 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi speaks during an interview with Reuters in Tokyo, Japan, March 12, 2024. — Reuters

VIENNA: Iran is enriching uranium to close to weapons-grade at a steady pace while discussions aimed at improving its cooperation with the UN nuclear watchdog are stalled, two confidential reports by the watchdog showed on Monday.

The International Atomic Energy Agency faces a range of difficulties in Iran, including the fact it only implemented a small fraction of the steps IAEA chief Rafael Grossi thought it committed to in a “Joint Statement” on cooperation last year.

“There has been no progress in the past year towards implementing the Joint Statement of 4 March 2023,” one of the two reports to member states, both of which were seen by Reuters, said. Grossi travelled to Iran this month for talks with Iranian officials aimed at improving cooperation and IAEA monitoring in Iran. Follow-up talks have stalled, however, after the death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash last week.

“The Director General reiterates to the new government of Iran his call for, and disposition to continue with, the high-level dialogue and ensuing technical exchanges commenced ... on 6-7 May 2024,” the report added.

It is 18 months since the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors last passed a resolution against Iran, ordering it to cooperate urgently with a years-long IAEA investigation into uranium particles found at three undeclared sites.

While the number of sites has since been reduced to two, Iran has still not explained how the traces got there. “The Director General regrets that the outstanding safeguards issues have not been resolved,” the report said, referring to those traces.

France and Britain are pushing for a new resolution at next week’s Board meeting, which the United States has so far not supported, diplomats say. Iran usually bristles at such resolutions, taking nuclear-related steps in response. The other report said Iran’s stock of uranium enriched to up to 60 percent purity, close to the roughly 90% of weapons-grade, grew by 20.6 kg over the quarter to 142.1 kg as of May 11, and Iran later diluted 5.9 kg to a lower enrichment level.

That means Iran now has roughly enough material enriched to up to 60 percent purity, if enriched further, for three nuclear weapons in theory, according to an IAEA yardstick. It has enough for more at lower enrichment levels. Western powers say there is no credible civil reason for Iran to enrich to that level. Iran says its aims are peaceful.