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Iran continues to stockpile highly enriched uranium

IAEA warns of danger and offers to meet with new Iranian government
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PHOTO / REUTERS  -   Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran technicians in a control room at the Uranium Conversion Facility in Isfahan, Iran.

Since the United States' unilateral exit from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2019 under President Donald Trump, Iran's stance has been inflexible. The enrichment of uranium, far from ceasing, has increased exponentially, surpassing every limit established in an agreement that for months now Iran has been trying to recover without success. The IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) warns of how dangerous the enrichment being carried out in Iran could be and of its growing inability to control Iran's nuclear programme.

The major concern in the UN is the increasingly realistic option of using stockpiled uranium for nuclear weapons production. However, this is an option that, at least for the time being, is ruled out since the uranium Iran currently possesses is enriched to 60 per cent - it should not be forgotten that the JCPOA limited enrichment to 3.67 per cent - and for nuclear weapons development a figure of close to 90 per cent is required. It is estimated that Iran currently has 10 kilos of uranium at 60%, which is four times the amount it had last May, according to the report issued this morning by the IAEA in Vienna and published by the EFE news agency

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PHOTO/WANA (West Asia News Agency) - A view of the nuclear water reactor in Arak, Iran, on Dec. 23, 2019.

It should not be forgotten that, in addition to these 10 kilos, the Iranians have stored around 2,300 kilos of uranium enriched to lower levels, a figure that far exceeds the 300 allowed under the agreement which, since the Americans left two years ago, seems to have no value whatsoever. The IAEA warns that "the Agency's confidence that it can maintain continued knowledge (of Iran's nuclear activities) is deteriorating over time and has now deteriorated further". They added that "that confidence will continue to be lost unless the situation is rectified immediately by Iran".

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Delegación de la UE en Viena via REUTERS - European External Action Service (EEAS) Deputy Secretary General Enrique Mora and Iranian Foreign Ministry Deputy Abbas Araghchi at the start of a meeting of the JCPOA Joint Commission in Vienna.

All this information that is coming to light may further complicate the negotiations for a return to the JCPOA, which have been deadlocked since June this year. The victory in the last elections of the ultra-conservative Ebrahim Raisi has not brought about any change in this regard, for now. The US is calling on Iran to return to the pact, while Tehran refuses to do so until the sanctions imposed on it are lifted.

The fundamental difficulty that arose at the beginning of 2021 and is now causing greater concern within the UN is the suspension of the implementation of the additional protocol to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Thanks to this protocol, international inspectors had the ability to carry out unannounced checks at nuclear facilities in any country. Even though the IAEA has cameras and surveillance equipment at Iranian facilities, the inability to access them makes the loss of information very likely.

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RONALD ZAK - Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi, who drafted the report, warns that the current situation makes his organisation's ability to resume surveillance work in the future even more complicated. In principle, there is an agreement signed three months ago - it was intended to last only one month - and which is still in force, whereby Iran allowed IAEA inspectors access to monitoring equipment. However, this access is very limited and leaves little room for manoeuvre, making it virtually ineffective.

The risk of losing all the information stored on the equipment is increasing. Already, several high-level diplomats are warning that it is impossible to maintain the situation as it is for much longer, otherwise it will be impossible to retrieve vital data. The strongest option might be to resume talks on the JCPOA, although the arrival of President Raisi could permanently stall the negotiations, which were scheduled to resume this September.