Iran Inches Closer To Nuclear Arsenal: UN Report Exposes Alarming Stockpile

By Tommy Wilson | Wednesday, 29 May 2024 05:15 AM
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Image Credit : AP Photo

In a confidential report released on Monday, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), revealed that Iran has continued to expand its stockpile of uranium enriched to near weapons-grade levels.

This development is the latest in a series of measures taken by Tehran to exert pressure on the international community.

Iran's objective is to have economic sanctions, imposed due to its controversial nuclear program, lifted in return for slowing down the program. The nuclear program, like all state matters in Iran, is under the guidance of the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. This is unlikely to change following last week's helicopter crash that resulted in the deaths of Iran's president and foreign minister.

The IAEA's report comes amid escalating tensions in the broader Middle East due to the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict. Last month, Israel and Iran carried out direct strikes on each other's territories for the first time.

According to the report, which was viewed by The Associated Press, Iran had 142.1 kilograms (313.2 pounds) of uranium enriched up to 60% as of May 11. This represents an increase of 20.6 kilograms (45.4 pounds) since the U.N. watchdog's last report in February. Uranium enriched to 60% purity is just a short, technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%.

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The IAEA defines around 42 kilograms (92.5 pounds) of uranium enriched to 60% as the amount theoretically needed to create one atomic weapon, provided the material is further enriched to 90%.

The report also states that Iran's total stockpile of enriched uranium stood at 6,201.3 kilograms (1,3671.5 pounds) as of May 11, marking an increase of 675.8 kilograms (1,489.8 pounds) since the IAEA's previous report.

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While Iran insists that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes, IAEA chief Rafael Mariano Grossi has previously warned that Tehran has enough uranium enriched to near-weapons-grade levels to produce "several" nuclear bombs if it chose to do so. He has also admitted that the U.N. agency cannot guarantee that none of Iran's centrifuges have been diverted for clandestine enrichment.

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Relations between Iran and the IAEA have been strained since 2018 when then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers. Since then, Iran has disregarded all limits the deal placed on its program and rapidly increased enrichment.

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Under the original nuclear deal, struck in 2015, Iran was permitted to enrich uranium only up to 3.67% purity, maintain a stockpile of about 300 kilograms, and use only very basic IR-1 centrifuges. In return for these limitations, economic sanctions were lifted. U.N. inspectors were assigned to monitor the program.

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Monday's report also revealed that Tehran has not reconsidered its September 2023 decision to bar IAEA inspectors from further monitoring its nuclear program. It added that it expects Iran "to do so in the context of the ongoing consultations between the (IAEA) agency and Iran."

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Grossi "deeply regrets" Iran's decision to bar inspectors, according to the report, and a reversal of that decision "remains essential to fully allow the agency to conduct its verification activities in Iran effectively."

The report acknowledged that the deaths of Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian have led to a pause in the IAEA's talks with Tehran over improving cooperation.

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Before the May 19 helicopter crash, Iran had agreed to hold technical negotiations with IAEA on May 20, following a visit by Grossi earlier in the month. However, these meetings were disrupted due to the crash. Iran then sent a letter on May 21, stating its nuclear team wants to continue discussions in Tehran "on an appropriate date that will be mutually agreed upon,” the report said.

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The report also stated that Iran has not yet provided answers to the IAEA's years-long investigation about the origin and current location of manmade uranium particles found at two locations that Tehran has failed to declare as potential nuclear sites, Varamin and Turquzabad.

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The IAEA’s request needs to be resolved, otherwise, the agency “will not be able to confirm the correctness and completeness of Iran’s declarations" under a safeguards agreement between Tehran and the nuclear watchdog.

The report also noted that there has been no progress so far in reinstalling more monitoring equipment, including cameras, removed in June 2022. Since then, the only recorded data is that of IAEA cameras installed at a centrifuge workshop in the city of Isfahan in May 2023 — although Iran has not provided the IAEA with access to this data.

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The IAEA stated that on May 21, IAEA inspectors, after a delay in April, "successfully serviced the cameras at the workshops in Isfahan and the data they had collected since late December 2023 were placed under separate Agency seals and Iranians seals at the locations.”

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