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Tuesday, June 4, 2024

UN nuclear watchdog plans Iran visit

Tehran recently announced it is enriching uranium to a higher level of purity than ever before

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it will send a team to Iran in an effort to resolve a dispute over traces of uranium allegedly found at undeclared nuclear sites, soon after the UN watchdog claimed the Islamic Republic could soon obtain weapons-grade fissile material.

The IAEA announced the upcoming visit to the Iranian capital on Thursday, saying it will take place on December 18 and be aimed at “addressing the outstanding safeguards issues previously reported by IAEA Director General Grossi.”

Read more: Iran blames US after being removed from UN rights body

The trip will focus on “multiple uranium particles of anthropogenic origin” reported at three locations in 2019, all suggested to be former nuclear sites previously undisclosed to the watchdog. The IAEA Board of Governors voted in November to order Tehran to cooperate with a probe into the radioactive traces, having already passed a similar resolution back in June.

Iran denounced the move as “ill-advised” at the time, insisting the decision would only hamper future cooperation with the IAEA, while also maintaining that it has never carried out significant research into developing nuclear weapons.

IAEA inspectors said they discovered the uranium traces in the months following former US President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from a major nuclear deal struck between Iran and world powers in 2015, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). Tehran has gradually scaled back its own compliance with the agreement since that decision, most recently declaring that it would enrich uranium to 60% – well above the 3.67% cap set out under the JCPOA and much closer to weapons-grade, or 90% and over.

Grossi, who leads the UN nuclear agency, has warned that the higher-purity uranium “is very close to military level,” arguing that it risks providing Iran with “an inventory of nuclear material” that could be used for a weapon. “We need to go. We need to verify,” he added, urging for new inspections.

Read more: Saudi FM: ‘All bets off’ if Iran gets nuclear weapon

In a statement on Thursday, the Iranian Foreign Ministry reiterated that it is ready to return to the nuclear pact, but cited a “long list of blatant violations” of the deal by the United States and the European Union. The ministry urged Washington and its allies to lift existing sanctions on Iran and to drop any “unrealistic and miscalculated” demands, noting that a draft agreement has already been prepared following months of sensitive negotiations in Vienna, Austria. Officials did not comment on the upcoming IAEA visit, however, only saying that Western attempts to “politicize” the JCPOA would “disturb technical cooperation” with the organisation.