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Iran has even more uranium, a quick step away from weapons grade, the UN says

Vienna — Iran has further increased its stockpile of uranium enriched to near weapons levelsThat’s according to a confidential report Monday by the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the latest in Tehran’s efforts to steadily pressure the international community.

Iran is seeking to have economic sanctions on the country’s controversial nuclear program lifted in exchange for slowing the program. The program – like all state affairs in Iran – is headed by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and that is unlikely to change in the aftermath of the crisis. helicopter crash last week killing the Iranian president and foreign minister.

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s report also comes against the backdrop of heightened tensions in the wider Middle East over the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. Israel and Iran carried out direct attacks on each other’s territory for the first time last month.

The report, seen by several news agencies, states that as of May 11, Iran has 142.1 kilograms of uranium enriched to 60% – an increase of 20.6 kilograms since the UN watchdog’s last report in February. Uranium enriched to a purity of 60% is just a short, technical step away from a weapons-grade level of 90%.

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According to the IAEA definition, about 42 kilograms of uranium enriched to 60% is the amount at which creating one nuclear weapon is theoretically possible – if the material is further enriched, up to 90%.

Also, the report says as of May 11, Iran’s total stockpile of enriched uranium is 6,201.3 kilograms (1,3671.5 pounds), marking an increase of 675.8 kilograms (1,489.8 pounds) since the IAEA’s previous report.

Iran has insisted its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, but the head of the IAEA, Rafael Mariano Grossi, has previously warned that Tehran has enough uranium enriched to near weapons levels to make “several” atomic bombs if the country chooses to do so. . He has acknowledged that the UN agency cannot guarantee that none of Iran’s centrifuges have been taken for clandestine enrichment.

Iran’s continued lack of transparency about its nuclear program

Tensions between Iran and the IAEA have increased since 2018, when then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. Since then, Iran has abandoned any restrictions the deal placed on its program and has rapidly ramped up enrichment.

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Under the original nuclear deal, concluded in 2015, Iran was only allowed to enrich uranium to a purity of 3.67%, maintain a stockpile of about 300 kilograms and use only very simple IR-1 centrifuges – machines that produce uranium gas at high speeds turning around for enrichment. purposes.

In the 2015 deal, Tehran agreed to limit uranium enrichment to levels necessary for nuclear power generation in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. At the time, UN inspectors were charged with overseeing the program.

Monday’s report also said Tehran has not reconsidered its September 2023 target decides to ban IAEA inspectors of further monitoring of its nuclear program, adding that it expects Iran “to do so in the context of the ongoing consultations between the (IAEA) agency and Iran.”

According to the report, Grossi “deeply regrets” Iran’s decision to ban inspectors and a reversal of that decision “remains essential to fully enable the agency to effectively conduct its verification activities in Iran.”

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The deaths of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian have led to a pause in IAEA talks with Tehran on improving cooperation, the report said.

Before the May 19 helicopter crash, Iran had agreed to hold technical negotiations with the IAEA on May 20, following a visit by Grossi earlier this month. But those meetings fell apart due to the crash. Iran then sent a letter on May 21 saying its nuclear team wants to continue talks in Tehran “at an appropriate date to be mutually agreed upon,” the report said.

Iranian nuclear analysis
The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Department, Mohammad Eslami, waves to the media at the end of his joint press conference with Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), also seen here, after their meeting in the central city of Isfahan. Iran, on May 7, 2024.

Vahid Salemi / AP

The report also states that Iran has still not responded to the IAEA’s year-long investigation into the origin and current location of man-made uranium particles found at two sites that Tehran has not identified as potential nuclear sites, Varamin and Turquzabad .

It said the IAEA’s request must be granted or the agency “will not be able to confirm the accuracy and completeness of Iran’s statements” under a safeguards agreement between Tehran and the nuclear watchdog.

The report also states that no progress has been made so far in reinstalling more monitoring equipment, including cameras, which were removed in June 2022. Since then, the only data recorded has been from IAEA cameras installed in a centrifuge workshop in the city of Isfahan in May 2023 – although Iran has not given the IAEA access to this data.

The IAEA said that on May 21, after a delay in April, IAEA inspectors “successfully serviced the cameras in the workshops in Isfahan and that the data they had collected since the end of December 2023 at the sites under separate Agency stamps and Iranian stamps were placed. “

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