Tehran, Iran – Iran has responded with defiance to a critical report by the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, signalling a difficult path ahead as world powers continue to try to restore the country’s 2015 nuclear deal.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in two confidential reports on Tuesday, cited by Western media outlets, that Iran has continued to increase production of high-enriched uranium while failing to resume full cooperation with nuclear inspectors.
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It also said the watchdog is “deeply concerned” about the longstanding issue of the presence of nuclear materials at several undeclared locations, something it says Iran has yet to adequately explain.
The circulation of the report prompted Iran’s IAEA envoy, Kazem Gharibabadi, to say no one can tell Iran to stop its nuclear activities, which he said are in line with its non-proliferation commitments, as long as unilateral United States sanctions remain in place.
The US withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal in 2018, imposing harsh sanctions that continue being enforced by President Joe Biden as all signatories, including China, Russia and European powers, try to restore the accord.
Iran is now enriching uranium to 60 percent, its highest ever rate, in response to the sanctions, in addition to attacks on its nuclear sites and the assassination of one of its top nuclear scientists. The agency said Iran’s stockpile of 60 percent enriched uranium has now reached 10 kilograms.
On Tuesday, Gharibabadi also said a temporary three-month agreement struck in late February to prevent partial restriction of IAEA monitoring activities – which was previously extended for another month – has expired and Iran is under no obligation to further extend it.
It is unclear whether Iran is still recording its nuclear facilities with agency cameras, or holding on to the tapes. But if the tapes are destroyed, as Iran has threatened would happen if US sanctions are not lifted, the IAEA will face a significant gap in its monitoring activities in Iran.
On the issue of nuclear particles being discovered at undeclared sites, the Iranian envoy said the issue dates back to about two decades ago, and Iran has offered sufficient cooperation.
“The agency must maintain its independence and professionalism and agency members must seriously refrain from trying to use it to achieve their political goals,” Gharibabadi said, pointing out that Iran accounts for more than one-fifth of all IAEA monitoring while the agency conducts no inspections in Israel.
Western powers and Israel, which said it has “greatly accelerated” its military plans to deal with Iran’s nuclear programme, are concerned Tehran might seek a nuclear weapon. Iran has consistently maintained it will never pursue a bomb.
Tuesday’s report was the first quarterly IAEA report released during the presidency of Ebrahim Raisi, who holds a more hardline approach on the West than his predecessor.
Raisi and his foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, have said they are in favour of negotiations that will lead to the lifting of sanctions, but denounce US efforts to conduct talks under “pressure”.
Since April, six rounds of talks have been held in Vienna to restore the nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). While progress has been made, significant issues remain unsolved and the talks were paused in late July to allow Raisi to form his administration.
No date has been set for a return to Vienna, but the IAEA’s next conference on September 21 could prove significant.
The US, backed by European powers, may once more consider pushing for a censure against Iran, something Iran has warned could make achieving an agreement on the nuclear deal significantly more complicated.