Iran Boosts Nuclear Fuel Stockpile Before Talks With World Powers
(Bloomberg) -- Iran has dramatically increased its stockpile of highly-enriched nuclear fuel while continuing to stonewall international monitors, setting the stage for a new round of acrimonious diplomacy with world powers later this month.
The developments were detailed in the latest International Atomic Energy Agency report circulated among officials Wednesday. Negotiating teams return to Vienna Nov. 29 in search of a way to lift U.S. sanctions on Iran in exchange for a cap on its atomic program with positions on key issues far apart.
The forthcoming talks featured this week in a call between U.S. President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, while China, Russia and Iran signaled they might potentially create a unified bloc against western nations once negotiations resume.
Iran’s store of uranium enriched to 60% levels increased 77% to 17.7 kilograms, the IAEA said. That purity of uranium is technically indistinguishable from the material needed to make nuclear weapons, with as little as 10 to 15 kilograms of the highly-enriched metal needed to manufacture a crude device. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful, civilian use but fears in the West that it could try to build a weapon drove diplomacy leading up to a 2015 accord.
“The Agency’s verification and monitoring activities have been seriously undermined as a result of Iran’s decision to stop the implementation of its nuclear-related commitments,” IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi wrote in the restricted 13-page reported seen by Bloomberg.
Monitors are “deeply concerned” with Iran’s failure to fully cooperate in their investigations into the source of decades-old uranium particles detected at undeclared sites, read a separate four-page report.
The Argentina diplomat will travel to Tehran to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian on Nov. 22.
The Vienna-based agency’s board of governors holds meetings next week, where the Persian Gulf country could be subject to diplomatic censure because of its lack of cooperation with inspectors.
IAEA Quarterly Iran-Report Highlights
Iranian officials have warned that an IAEA censure resolution will dim the prospects for the broader talks in the Austrian capital. They are designed to resurrect the 2015 deal, known as the JCPOA, with world powers.
The agreement reined in Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief until the Trump administration withdrew and reimposed penalties, and Iran retaliated by breaking limits on its enrichment.
Six rounds of negotiations to restore the pact floundered in June after Iran elected its new president, conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi.
The talks in Vienna could drag on for months. Oil traders will be watching closely as a successful resolution to the standoff would likely result in a spike in Iranian oil exports for a tightly-supplied market, and could help calm Middle East flashpoints.
Underscoring the deteriorating relationship between Iran and monitors, the IAEA reported Iran has subjected its inspectors to excessive security measures in the wake of alleged sabotage at nuclear facilities.
“Inspectors had continued to experience excessively invasive searches, which resulted in them feeling intimidated,” the agency said.
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