Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says Iran must co-operate with UN nuclear watchdog

A number of caveats suggest full co-operation with the International Energy Agency remains some way off

Iranian centrifuges on display during a meeting between Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, nuclear scientists and personnel of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran in Tehran. EPA
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Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday that Iran should co-operate with the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, but added a number of caveats that suggest full co-operation was some way off.

He also said that Iran did not want a nuclear weapon due to its “religious beliefs” but would have built one by now if it desired.

"There is nothing wrong with the agreement (with the West), but the infrastructure of our nuclear industry should not be touched," Mr Khamenei said, according to state media.

Iran, the US and the EU, in addition to China and Russia, have been seeking to resume a 2015 deal that would have allowed regular UN inspections of nuclear sites in exchange for the lifting of hard-hitting trade sanctions.

The deal also curbed Iran's nuclear research at a level consistent with civilian use.

Donald Trump’s administration walked away from the deal in 2018, claiming it allowed Iran too much space for nuclear research, but President Joe Biden resumed talks in April 2021.

Negotiations have hit successive stumbling blocks amid growing US and EU anger over Iran’s military support for Russia in the Ukraine war and crackdowns on protest movements.

Talks have further deteriorated amid a series of claims by the IAEA that Iran had removed cameras at nuclear sites previously installed by the watchdog as part of what is known as a safeguard agreement, and had hugely increased uranium enrichment while hiding the presence of some nuclear research at four sites.

Experts say Iran has enough uranium enriched at 60 per cent – confirmed by the IAEA – to start rapid nuclear bomb development, providing testing of a device can be done successfully, and a missile capable of carrying the device can be built.

Iran has invested heavily in long-range ballistic missile development.

Uranium must be 90 per cent enriched for a bomb, but experts say it may be possible to build a device with material enriched to lower levels.

Unexplained uranium

Last month, the IAEA said that some outstanding issues, specifically the installation of cameras and the presence of unexplained highly enriched uranium particles at four sites, had been resolved.

Their decision to halt an investigation into the unexplained uranium particles provoked an angry response from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said the organisation had become “politicised”.

But the IAEA's head, Raphael Grossi, said last week that only “a fraction of what we envisaged” had been achieved in terms of installing cameras and enrichment monitoring equipment at two major sites, Fordow and Natanz.

“What needs to happen now is a sustained and uninterrupted process that leads to all the commitments contained in the Joint Statement being fulfilled without further delay,” he said.

Mr Khamenei rejected that Iran was seeking a nuclear bomb on Sunday.

"Accusations about Tehran seeking nuclear weapons is a lie and they know it. We do not want nuclear arms because of our religious beliefs. Otherwise they [the West] would not have been able to stop it," he said.

Updated: June 12, 2023, 3:17 AM