IAEA says Iran may be producing uranium metal

Uranium metal, when enriched, can be used in the core of nuclear weapons
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PHOTO/©2020 MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES  -   Satellite image showing Iran's Natanz nuclear facility in Esfahan, Iran, 21 October 2020

The US newspaper The Wall Street Journal has once again revealed information that could aggravate the situation of tension that a large part of the international community is experiencing with regard to Iran's nuclear programme. Despite the EU's attempts to mediate and the willingness shown by the new US administration to join the 2015 agreement that was withdrawn from under the presidency of Donald Trump, Iran continues to take steps in the opposite direction.

A few days ago, the US newspaper referred to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which indicated that radioactive traces had been found that could indicate that undeclared nuclear tests had been carried out by Tehran. These traces were found during the inspection carried out last October at several of Tehran's facilities.

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AFP PHOTO/IRNA/KAZEM GHANE - In this file photo taken on January 20, 2014, unidentified International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors and Iranian technicians disconnect connections between the twin cascades for the production of 20 percent uranium at the Natanz nuclear plant

On this occasion, WSJ reveals that the IAEA report, which is confidential, suggests that Iran is already producing uranium metal, an essential element for the manufacture of nuclear weapons. This should come as no surprise, as it is one of the measures announced by Iran at the end of last year as part of a strategy to press for the lifting of US sanctions, which are strangling the Iranian economy.

Tehran warned that it would begin uranium metal production within five months, but according to the report to which the US newspaper has had access, production has already begun, albeit in very small quantities and without enrichment.

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PHOTO/IRIB via AP - In this 6 June 2018 file frame from state-run Islamic Republic Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, television, three versions of domestically manufactured centrifuges are shown in a live TV programme from Natanz

Another of the aspects with which Iran is complicating the situation is the enrichment of uranium, something that according to the agreement can only be done with a purity of 3.67% and which, however, has already reached a purity of 20%, almost five times more than that stipulated in the so-called JCPOA, the agreement reached in 2015.

According to the IAEA, uranium metal production is reportedly taking place at the country's facility in Isfahan, one of the most important, along with Natanz and Fordo, where uranium enrichment is taking place.

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AFP/ BEHROUZ MEHRI - Building housing the reactor at the Bushehr nuclear power plant, in the southern Iranian port city of Bushehr, 1,200 kilometres south of Tehran

For weeks, Iran and the United States have been at loggerheads over the delicate situation of the JCPOA. Tehran accuses the United States of having forced the country to push its nuclear programme again and breach the agreements, since the US decided to pull out of the agreement in 2018 and lift new sanctions against the country. For this reason, Iranian officials say, the United States should take the first step, lift the sanctions and return to the agreement so that Iran can then return to compliance.

In Washington, however, both Joe Biden, President of the United States, and Antony Blinken, Secretary of State, have expressed their willingness to return to the nuclear agreement and to develop and improve the framework of relations with Iran. However, they warn that this will only happen when Iran fulfils its commitments and reverses the latest initiatives it has been taking.

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AP PHOTO/IRAN PRESIDENTIAL OFFICE /Mohammad Berno - In this Jan. 13, 2015 file photo, President Hassan Rouhani visits the Bushehr nuclear power plant outside Bushehr, Iran

Meanwhile, countries such as Israel warn that Iran's development of nuclear weapons is closer than ever, so there must be no let-up, alluding to US intentions, and the firmness initiated by Donald Trump must be maintained.

In any case, this is the umpteenth episode in an escalation that will only cease when one of the two countries gives in and avoids crossing a point of no return, something that countries such as Germany, the UK and France are trying to prevent from happening.