Alarm grows over Iran nuclear program among sidelined monitors
(Bloomberg) – International observers watch Iran’s expanding nuclear program with growing concern, as Tehran refuses to extend an expired inspection pact and insists experts must be confident it is accurately documenting the uranium enrichment activities.
Iran says it still preserves data captured by the International Atomic Energy Agency’s surveillance equipment, the agency’s director general Rafael Mariano Grossi said in an interview in Rio de Janeiro. But officials will not give access to its investigators until Iran concludes stalled talks with world powers to restore a broader 2015 deal that lifted sanctions.
“It’s a rather uncomfortable situation for us because this assurance is informal in nature and we don’t know whether it is or not,” Grossi said on Monday. ” But we have no choice.
The deal reached six years ago this month limited Iran’s nuclear activities, but it has collapsed since then-President Donald Trump withdrew the United States in 2018. Afterwards as Trump reimposed the sanctions, Iran began breaking the caps on its nuclear work, and it now has almost enough in stock. highly enriched uranium to build a warhead.
“We have to verify that all this material at these higher grades is going to remain in peaceful uses,” Grossi said. “The only way to do this is to cooperate with the IAEA. If they don’t, they are outlaws.
As the Biden administration, along with China, France, Germany, Russia and the UK, have been trying to revive the 2015 deal since April, diplomats are not expected to meet until next month after the new Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi, a die-hard cleric, is installed in the office.
Sales in China
The talks are closely followed by energy markets which anticipate an increase in Iranian oil and gas exports if sanctions on the country’s sales are lifted.
Grossi spoke amid reports that policymakers in Washington could start increasing pressure on Iran if talks to revive their deal fail. Dow Jones reported that the United States could target Iran’s oil sales to China, which have increased since President Joe Biden entered the White House, if the talks fail.
It’s just one of many alternative scenarios the United States is considering if there is no return to the multinational nuclear deal, according to a US official who asked not to be identified in internal discussions. . China is the country where Iran exports most of its oil today, and the United States has signaled the possibility of further sanctions to China, the official said.
Iran has more than tripled its stocks of 60% enriched uranium to 8.9 kilograms (19.6 pounds) from 2.4 kilograms verified by international inspectors in a June report, according to a tweet from Iran’s minister of Foreign Affairs last week. This purity of uranium is technically indistinguishable from the material needed to make nuclear weapons, with as little as 10 to 15 kilograms of the highly enriched metal needed to make a raw nuclear device.
Iran has always maintained that its nuclear program is for civilian use, but concern from Western capitals and Israel over the bomb-making potential helped spur the initial deal.
“We will have to see what the new government decides in terms of returning to the format,” said Grossi, whose agency is not represented at the talks but plays a key role in enforcing the nuclear accords of the deal.
Grossi said his inspectors continue to be present inside Iran but their visits are limited to declared nuclear sites. The IAEA investigation into decades-old traces of uranium found in several locations and linked to the Israeli disclosures remains at a standstill.
“It’s basically stopped,” Grossi said. “We have exchanged a few letters, but there is no real commitment.”
The failure to clarify the source of the material opens up another potential avenue for the United States to put pressure on Iran. Washington’s envoy to the IAEA, Louis Bono, suggested that the Islamic Republic could be subject to formal censorship if the investigation did not advance until September.
(Updates with US official on Iranian oil sales to China in ninth paragraph)
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