United Nations nuclear chief Rafael Mariano Grossi reiterated in an interview published Friday that he had “very limited visibility” of Iran’s atomic program.

Around six weeks after Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said June 9 that four weeks remained during which he could certify the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear work, he told the Spanish newspaper El Pais that Iran’s nuclear work was “galloping ahead.”

Iran began restricting IAEA access to that required under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty at the end of 2020 after its nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed. Iran announced its latest steps downscaling agency monitoring equipment June 8 after the IAEA board passed a critical motion moved by the United States and some European countries.

Grossi told El Pais that even if stalled negotiations succeeded in reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, under which the agency had extensive inspection powers, there would remain a period for which he lacked knowledge. He did, however, moderate his June 9 comments.

“If there is an agreement [to restore the 2015 deal, the JCPOA, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], it is going to be very difficult for me to reconstruct the puzzle of this whole period of forced blindness,” Grossi said. “It is not impossible, but it is going to require a very complex task and perhaps some specific agreements.”

Iran has breached several JCPOA restrictions on its nuclear program, which it began doing in 2019, the year after the United States, under President Donald Trump, withdrew from the agreement and imposed draconian sanctions on Iran.

Grossi expressed to El Pais concern over the number of centrifuges, used to enrich uranium, Iran is either constructing or has in operation. Both numbers and type were limited by the JCPOA.

Fragile database

“The agency needed to reconstruct a database, without which any agreement will rest on a very fragile basis, because if we don't know what's there, how can we determine how much material to export, how many centrifuges to leave unused?” Grossi asked.

The number and kind of centrifuges Iran operates, or has ready, determines how quickly it could enrich sufficient ‘weapons grade’ uranium, generally taken to be 90 percent purity, for a bomb. Iran currently enriches to 60 percent, way above the JCPOA limit of 3.65 percent.

The US Special Envoy for Iran Rob Malley said Tuesday Iran was “a few weeks” from having enough sufficiently enriched uranium for a bomb “it if chooses to enrich at that level,” although weaponization would take longer.

US-Iran Talks over JCPOA restoration seem stuck, despite diplomatic efforts by the European Union, with some analysts arguing both sides await the outcome of November’s US mid-term Congressional elections. For now, both Tehran and Washington are dealing with domestic critics and arguing the onus lies with the other.

Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian repeated Friday that Iran wanted US assurances it would get the “full economic benefits of the agreement.” He said Iran would not be “bitten twice,” referring to Tehran’s argument that when the US was ‘in’ the JCPOA, it used other means than direct sanctions to restrict Iran’s access to world trade.

One economic imperative for Iran is foreign investments, which might prove hard to secure given the closed nature of its government-controlled economy and its image as an un-hospitable country for foreign businesses.

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