Tehran, Iran – Iran has denied that it has intentionally enriched uranium to a purity of 84 percent amid ongoing issues with the global nuclear watchdog and disagreements over its 2015 nuclear deal.
US-based financial news agency Bloomberg reported on Sunday that inspectors with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had found uranium enriched to a purity of 84 percent — just below the 90 percent required for a bomb — and are trying to determine if it was produced intentionally.
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This is the highest purity uranium ever found in Iran, which has gradually boosted its enrichment since 2019, one year after the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from its nuclear deal with world powers, and has declared enrichment up to 60 percent. Iranian officials have said that they are not seeking a nuclear weapon.
“The IAEA is aware of recent media reports relating to uranium enrichment levels in Iran,” the agency wrote on Twitter early on Monday. “Director General @rafaelmgrossi is discussing with Iran the results of recent Agency verification activities and will inform the IAEA Board of Governors as appropriate.”
Behrouz Kamalvandi, the spokesperson for the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, told the state-linked Fars news website late on Sunday that particles with a purity of higher than 60 percent had been found by inspectors, but that had happened before and was nothing out of the ordinary.
“The existence of a uranium particle or particles with a purity of over 60 percent in the enrichment process does not mean that there has been enrichment over 60 percent,” he said.
“This is something very natural which can even occur as a result of a decrease in the feed of centrifuge cascades at a moment. What matters is the final product, and the Islamic Republic of Iran has so far not tried to enrich over 60 percent.”
According to Kamalvandi, an issue like this was not something the agency would even report to its member states, so the fact that it has been leaked to Western media showed it was an effort towards “smearing and warping facts”.
The spokesperson also repeated Iranian accusations that the agency was being used as a “political tool” to pressure Iran with confidential reports previously leaked to media in Western countries.
Iran and the IAEA last clashed earlier this month, after a leaked confidential agency report said the interconnection between two cascades of advanced IR-6 centrifuges at the sensitive underground site at Fordow had been changed without notice.
Iran, which started enriching to 60 percent at Fordow in November last year in reaction to a censure resolution passed at the IAEA board, dismissed the report as “incorrect”.
The Western parties to the nuclear deal, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), have repeatedly called on Iran to fully cooperate with the agency and restore its complete monitoring access.
The issue was also raised in a phone call between the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian on Sunday, both confirmed in tweets.
Spoke with @Amirabdolahian.
I underlined again the EU’s position on Iran’s behaviour: stop human rights violations, stop support to Russia’s war of aggression, and stop unjustified detention of EU citizens.
Iran urgently needs to cooperate with @iaeaorg.
— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) February 19, 2023
Tonight on telephone with @JosepBorrellF discussed Iran-EU ties, JCPOA, Iran-IAEA cooperation and Ukraine developments. Emphasized that I.R.Iran relies upon its people and this was proven once again on February 11th (national day) this year.
— H.Amirabdollahian امیرعبداللهیان (@Amirabdolahian) February 19, 2023
There has been no significant progress on efforts to restore the nuclear deal since September, when the Western parties accused Iran of derailing the talks.
Since then, they have imposed several rounds of sanctions on Iranian officials and entities for allegedly selling drones to Russia for the war in Ukraine, and for cracking down on antigovernment protests.
Tehran, for its part, has maintained that it wants a deal and has accused the West of lacking political will.
Russia and China are also part of the JCPOA.