US calls on Iran to halt ‘nuclear escalations’

UN nuclear agency reports Iranian progress on uranium metal production as the US warns Tehran is threatening nuclear deal talks.

Iran - Enrichment
Unidentified IAEA inspectors and Iranian technicians seen at Iran's Natanz facility south of the capital Tehran in 2014 [File: Kazem Ghane/IRNA via AP]

Iran has made progress in its work on enriched uranium metal, the UN nuclear watchdog said in a report to member states, despite Western warnings that such work threatens talks on reviving the Iran nuclear deal.

The United States responded to the report by demanding that Tehran halt its “nuclear escalations”.

Iran’s work on enriched uranium metal has angered Europe’s three top powers and the US because that technology – and knowledge of how to produce it – can be used to make the core of a nuclear weapon. Iran insists its aims are entirely peaceful and it is developing a new type of reactor fuel.

“Iran has no credible need to produce uranium metal, which has direct relevance to nuclear weapons development,” US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a statement.

“Iran should cease its nuclear escalations and return to negotiations toward full implementation” of the nuclear agreement, he said.

In the report issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi said his inspectors confirmed on Saturday that Iran had now produced 200 grammes of uranium metal enriched up to 20 percent.

Grossi previously reported in February that his inspectors had confirmed that a small amount of uranium metal, 3.6 grammes, had been produced at Iran’s Isfahan plant.

Iran promised not to produce uranium metal as part of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), under which it was to scale back its nuclear program drastically in return for sanctions relief.

But Iran said earlier this year it was researching uranium metal to provide advanced fuel for a research reactor – one of a series of steps it took outside the JCPOA after former president Donald Trump withdrew the US from the landmark accord.

“We have made clear that continued nuclear escalations beyond JCPOA limits are unconstructive and inconsistent with a return to mutual compliance,” Price said.

The US administration says it is seeking a return to the 2015 multilateral nuclear agreement.

Trump nixed the accord in 2018 and started a “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions against Tehran. In response, Iran started loosening its commitments to the agreement.

France, Germany and the UK, as well as Russia and China, have been working to try to preserve the accord.

Several rounds of talks in Vienna, Austria, failed to restore the JCPOA earlier this year, with disagreements remaining over the sequencing of mutual compliance with the deal and what US sanctions will be lifted.

The talks have been at a standstill since the inauguration of Iran’s new conservative president, Ebrahim Raisi, who says he supports efforts to lift US sanctions.

Late last month, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Washington is prepared to resume negotiations with the new Iranian administration but warned talks “cannot go on indefinitely”.

Source: News Agencies