Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Iran’s Enriched Uranium Stockpile Is 12 Times Nuclear Accord’s Cap, U.N. Agency Says

 The Wall Street Journal

Stockpile, along with advanced centrifuges and nuclear research, underscores challenge Biden would face in persuading Iran to return to 2015 deal

A satellite image shows Iran's nuclear facility in Isfahan on Oct. 21 


By Laurence Norman

 Iran is continuing to build up its stockpile of low-enriched uranium and now holds roughly 12 times the amount permitted under the 2015 nuclear agreement, the United Nations Atomic Agency said in a report.

 The report’s findings underscore the challenge the incoming Biden administration faces in persuading Iran to fully return to the 2015 nuclear deal: Besides the stockpile of low-enriched uranium, which when further refined can be used to fuel a nuclear weapon, Iran is also taking steps to potentially accelerate its production of low-enriched uranium and is continuing its nuclear research.

 President-elect Joe Biden has said he is prepared to take the U.S. back into the 2015 nuclear deal provided Iran returns into full compliance with that deal and agrees to future negotiations for longer and more stringent constraints on its nuclear activities.

 Mr. Biden, who was vice president when the Iran deal was struck, has criticized the Trump administration’s decision to quit the nuclear deal in May 2018 and impose sweeping sanctions on Tehran. In September, he said that approach “recklessly tossed away a policy that was working to keep America safe and replaced it with one that has worsened the threat.”

 Iran has said it is open to negotiation but has placed various conditions on returning to the accord’s terms, including compensation for the U.S.’s withdrawal and sanctions. On Wednesday, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araghchi, was quoted in Iranian state media saying “the way back is open” for the U.S. to the deal.

 Iran has gradually moved away from the nuclear deal’s limits since the summer of 2019 in response to the U.S.’s “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign.

 Mr. Trump, in justifying his decision to take the U.S. out of the deal, said it would fail to stop Tehran from eventually obtaining nuclear weapons and ignored key issues, like Iran’s ballistic-missile capacity and its support for terrorism. Trump administration officials have indicated they could slap new sanctions on Iran in the final weeks before January’s transition.

 In its latest quarterly report, sent to member states and seen by The Wall Street Journal, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran had now accumulated a low-enriched uranium stockpile of 2,443 kilograms. That compares with a limit of 203 kg under the nuclear deal.

Of the total, which the agency said is enriched up to 4.5% purity, around a quarter has been produced in a way that nuclear experts say would be of little use for further enrichment. Nonetheless, Iran has now accumulated enough enriched uranium to produce the high-enriched uranium needed for two nuclear weapons, according to analysts at the Institute for Science and International Security. Weapons-grade material is of around 90% purity.

Iran denies that it is seeking or has ever sought to build a nuclear weapon.

The report also detailed various moves by Iran to install more-advanced centrifuges, which can produce enriched uranium much more quickly, at its nuclear facilities. That could allow Iran to step up its enriched-uranium production in coming months.

 Among the more important changes was Iran’s decision to install a first group of so-called IR-2M centrifuges at its underground enrichment site at the Natanz facility, breaching one of the nuclear deal’s terms.

 The IR-2M machines are the only more-advanced centrifuges Tehran has successfully deployed, and Tehran had already said it was intending to place up to three cascades of the machines underground. However, the machines aren’t yet being fed with uranium, the IAEA reported.

“Iran may choose to exploit the U.S. presidential transition period to augment its nuclear programs and manufacture a crisis so that a Biden administration feels compelled to re-enter the [nuclear deal],” said Andrea Stricker, a research fellow at the Washington-based think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies, which has campaigned against the nuclear deal.

  “The Biden camp should…recognize it holds all the leverage of sanctions relief built from the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign and seek a better agreement,” she said.

The IAEA report showed the agency is still not receiving adequate explanations from Iran for its discovery of uranium at a site in the outskirts of Tehran last year. The site, first revealed by the Israelis, is believed to be where Iran stored material and equipment used in what Western countries believe was a nuclear-weapons program in the 1990s and early 2000s.

 The agency cited a letter it sent Iranian authorities on Monday that said Iran’s explanations for the material were “not technically credible” and urged a “full and prompt” explanation by Iran for the material.

In a footnote to the report, it said the material found at the site was similar to traces found on centrifuges imported into Iran by Pakistan, as detailed in a report in 2008.

 It was long believed that Iran’s suspected nuclear-weapons program was linked to Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan’s global nuclear-supply network.

 Under its international commitments, Iran is supposed to declare and account for all nuclear material in the country.

Following the discovery of the nuclear material, and with Iran blocking for months IAEA inspectors’ access to two nuclear sites, now visited by the agency, the Trump administration pressed IAEA members to force Iran to open up about its past nuclear work.


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