HomeTop StoriesIncreased UN nuclear inspections in Iran cannot solve the growing mistrust

Increased UN nuclear inspections in Iran cannot solve the growing mistrust

(Bloomberg) — The United Nations nuclear watchdog said that despite the growing presence of inspectors in Iran last year, its understanding of the Persian Gulf country’s nuclear ambitions deteriorated amid rising regional tensions.

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The International Atomic Energy Agency distributed its annual review of nuclear oversight to diplomats preparing to convene a key meeting next month in Vienna. Iran is facing increasing pressure to step up cooperation with UN inspectors or face diplomatic censure followed by a possible referral to the UN Security Council.

“While regular inspection work has continued, little progress has been made in resolving outstanding safety issues,” IAEA Director Rafael Mariano Grossi wrote in the limited 112-page report seen by Bloomberg.

“Unless Iran clarifies these outstanding issues, the agency cannot provide assurance on the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program,” he said.

Even as inspections increased by 8% last year and remain well above levels experienced before Iran’s defunct 2015 deal with world powers, the IAEA said its understanding of certain activities has been completely lost.

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“The agency has lost continuity of knowledge regarding the production and inventory of centrifuges, rotors and bellows, heavy water and uranium ore concentrate,” wrote Grossi, who visited Iran last week for high-level talks aimed at strengthening cooperation enlarge.

This week’s so-called Safeguards Implementation Report is one of two key IAEA documents being prepared ahead of a June 3 meeting in the Austrian capital. Observers are still preparing a quarterly security report that will update diplomats on the status of their investigations in Iran and brief envoys on the size of Iran’s growing uranium stockpile.

The US gave Iran an ultimatum at the latest meeting of the IAEA: cooperate or face censure, which could lead to a referral to the UN Security Council, where sanctions on the Islamic Republic could be extended. Some European countries already wanted to increase the pressure in March.

The IAEA’s assessment of Iran underlines the limitations of nuclear safeguards. While inspectors report gram-level changes in Iran’s uranium inventory, they cannot gauge the intent because they are outside facilities where declared fuel is not present. Some diplomats are concerned that Iran is hiding sites with machines or uranium ore.

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The unease is compounded by a series of comments from former and current Iranian officials suggesting the country could change its nuclear doctrine and build a weapon. Tit-for-tat missile strikes between Israel and Iran last month add urgency to the IAEA’s years-long investigation into the origins of uranium sampled at unclear locations in Iran.

The IAEA also reported the following in its annual safety assessment:

  • Inspectors wrote that their “overall security situation” remained concerning in some states. The IAEA had to temporarily pause inspections last month after Iran closed facilities due to expected military attacks on Israel.

  • Even when inspectors are not on site, the IAEA monitors nuclear activities using remote sensing imagery, including online streaming via satellites. Inspectors obtained about 1,768 satellite images last year from locations in 52 countries.

  • The agency develops artificial tools to search and collect open source information to prioritize investigations and new research.

  • IAEA inspectors took into account the fissile material needed to make nearly 236,000 nuclear weapons at 724 sites worldwide. Iran’s current uranium stockpile could fuel a handful of nuclear warheads if a decision to arm it is made.

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