Friday, February 26, 2021

Iran producing uranium metal, further violating 2015 deal, says nuclear watchdog

The latest violation of the deal, which is aimed at preventing Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, comes as Iran warns that time is running out for Joe Biden's administration to save the agreement.

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Iran has started producing uranium metal, the UN nuclear watchdog said Wednesday, in a fresh breach of the limits laid out in Tehran’s 2015 deal with world powers.

The latest violation of the deal, which is aimed at preventing Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, came as Iran warned that time was running out for new US president Joe Biden’s administration to save the agreement.

The Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a statement seen by AFP that on Feb 8, it “verified 3.6 grammes of uranium metal at Iran’s Fuel Plate Fabrication Plant in Esfahan”.

IAEA director-general Rafael Grossi informed member states of the new violation, the statement added.

The news had been expected after Iran said last month it was researching uranium metal production, aiming to provide advanced fuel for a research reactor in Tehran.

But the topic is sensitive because uranium metal can be used as a component in nuclear weapons.

The landmark deal – reached in 2015 by the US, China, Russia, Germany, France and Britain – contained a 15-year ban on “producing or acquiring plutonium or uranium metals or their alloys”.

The deal says that after 10 years, Iran would have been allowed to initiate research on producing uranium metal-based fuel “in small agreed quantities”, but only if the other parties had given approval.

The new violation comes a month after Iran announced it had stepped up its uranium enrichment process to 20% purity, far above the 3.67% level permitted by the deal but far below the amount required for an atomic bomb.

In 2018, US president Donald Trump dramatically withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and reimposed crippling economic sanctions on Tehran. The following year, Tehran announced it would start breaking the deal’s limits on nuclear activity.

Trump’s successor Biden is seeking to revive the agreement, but the two sides appear to be in a standoff over who acts first.

“If they want Iran to return to its commitments… the US must entirely lift the sanctions, in practice and not on paper,” supreme Iranian leader Ali Khamenei said Sunday.

When Biden was asked later that day whether he would halt sanctions to convince Iran to return to the bargaining table, Biden offered a clear reply: “No.”

On Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that “with the new administration in Washington, there is an opportunity to try a new approach, but the current window is fleeting”.

“Soon my government will be compelled to take further remedial action in response to the American and European dismal failure to live up to their commitments under the nuclear deal,” Zarif said in a YouTube video marking the 42nd anniversary of the Islamic revolution.

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