IAEA's Rafael Grossi at the UN headquarters in New York on Oct. 27, 2022

UN Nuclear Chief Says Concerns Over Iran Growing

Thursday, 11/10/2022

Raphael Mariano Grossi, head of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has highlighted growing attention and unease over Iran’s nuclear program.

Speaking on the sidelines of the United Nations COP27 climate gathering in Egypt, Grossi referred to Tehran’s claim earlier Thursday that it had developed a hypersonic missile, which could travel at over five times the speed of sound.

“We see that all these announcements increase the attention, increase the concerns, increase the public attention to the Iranian nuclear program,” Grossi, the IAEA director-general told the AFP news agency.

Under the terms of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which the United States left in 2018 imposing stringent sanctions, Iran was prohibited from developing missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads. But concerns over Iran’s general missile capacity, an option attractive partly due to Iran’s lack of an effective air-force, has increased with the expansion of the nuclear program since 2019.

With talks to revive the 2015 agreement, the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) apparently suspended since the summer, two IAEA reports to member states Thursday highlighted Tehran’s continued nuclear progress.

While Iran’s stocks of all enriched uranium had gone down in three months by 267kg to 3,674kg – still way above the JCPOA limit of 267kg – the uranium stock enriched to 60 percent, close to the 90 percent considered ‘weapons grade,’ rose by nearly 6.7kg to 62.3kg. Experts say Iran, with further enrichment, has enough material for a bomb, a step it says it has no intention of taking.

Cascade of Iranian centrifuges enriching uranium to higher purity

A second IAEA report said agency inspectors would visit Iran during November to discuss uranium traces found at Iranian sites linked to nuclear work carried out before 2003. The report said the agency expected “to start receiving …technically credible explanations…including access to locations and material…”

Iran has since February 2021 reduced the IAEA’s access to that required under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, citing the killing of a scientists and attacks on its atomic facilities widely attributed to Israel. The agency’s first report Thursday noted that reduced access was having a “significant impact” on the IAEA’s verification work and that “the longer the current situation persists, the greater such uncertainty becomes.”

‘Stabilize the current crisis’

Iranian leaders have demanded the IAEA drop its probe into the uranium traces before the JCPOA can be restored. Next week sees the quarterly meeting of the IAEA board. In June the 35-member board passed a resolution, against Russian and Chinese wishes, censuring Iran over what the agency has called a lack of cooperation in explaining the uranium traces.

There was optimist about a new deal in August when the European Union presented a compromise draft document. Iran responded to the proposal with demands that the US found beyond the JCPOA and talks entered an impasse, Since then Russia has begun using Iranian-made drones against Ukraine, further souring the mood in the West.

Warning Wednesday of a need to “stabilize the current crisis before it is too late,” the Washington-based Arms Control Association called for “reciprocal, confidence-building steps, ”by the US and Iran “to prevent further escalation, reduce the risk of proliferation, and decrease the chances of miscalculation.” The association suggested that enhanced monitoring “would be an ideal starting point.”

Hossein Mousavian, former Iranian nuclear negotiator and security official, in a piece for Middle East Eye published Tuesday, called for renewed efforts to salvage the JCPOA and said that a US or Israeli military attack could push Iran into developing a nuclear weapon..

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