Iran enriching 'worrying quantities' of uranium, UN official warns

Nuclear watchdog estimates Tehran has an enriched stockpile of more than 18 times the amount allowed under the 2015 nuclear deal

UN official Rosemary DiCarlo urged Iran to reverse steps taken in contravention of the 2015 nuclear deal. AP
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Iran plans to install new centrifuges at one of its fuel enrichment plants and produce additional uranium enriched up to 60 per cent at another centre, a top UN official has said, citing the findings of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Undersecretary General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo told the UN Security Council on Monday that the nuclear watchdog now estimates that Tehran has a total enriched uranium stockpile of more than 18 times the allowable amount under the 2015 nuclear deal.

“This includes worrying quantities of uranium enriched to 20 per cent and 60 per cent,” she said.

The IAEA has previously assessed that Iran possesses over 60kg of uranium enriched to 60 per cent, which experts say puts the country within reach of one atomic bomb, either by continuing enrichment until the ideal level for a device — which is 90 per cent — or by using some technical workaround.

A number of significant technical hurdles would then have to be overcome to construct a bomb small enough to fit on a missile, but the UK said on Monday that Iran was moving quickly on a potential weapon.

“Iranian nuclear breakout time has reduced to a matter of weeks, and the time required for Iran to produce the fissile material for multiple nuclear weapons is decreasing,” said the UK's Ambassador to the UN Barbara Woodward.

She said Iran is also testing technology that could enable intermediate and intercontinental range ballistic missiles to carry a nuclear payload.

Ms DiCarlo said Iran's decision to remove the agency's surveillance and monitoring equipment at research sites had hampered the agency's ability to provide assurance of the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme.

“Against this backdrop, we once again call on Iran to reverse the steps it has taken since July 2019 that are not consistent with its nuclear-related commitments under the plan,” Ms DiCarlo said.

Iran meanwhile, blamed the US for failing to accept a series of compromise proposals and reiterated its claim that its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes. Civilian nuclear power plants typically use uranium enriched below five per cent.

Iran’s UN Ambassador Amir Saeid Iravani emphasised that all of Iran’s nuclear activities “are peaceful” and said Iran is ready to engage the IAEA to resolve outstanding issues on nuclear safeguards, a technical term that refers to allowing nuclear inspections.

Mr Iravani said his team exercised “maximum flexibility” in trying to reach agreement and even introduced an “innovative solution to the remaining issues to break the impasse”. But he claimed the US was pursuing an “unrealistic and rigid approach” to negotiations.

This charge was firmly rejected by US Deputy UN Ambassador Robert Wood.

In September, a deal that all other parties had agreed to was “within reach” and “even Iran prepared to say yes”, Mr Wood said.

“Until, at the last minute, Iran made new demands that were extraneous to the JCPOA and that it knew could not be met,” he added.

He said Iran's conduct since September — notably its failure to co-operate with the IAEA, and the expansion of its nuclear programme “for no legitimate civilian purpose” — has reinforced US scepticism “about Iran’s willingness and capability of reaching a deal, and explains why there have been no active negotiations since then”.

Drones to Russia row

On Ukraine, the US accused UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres of “apparently yielding to Russian threats” and not sending officials to Ukraine to inspect drones used by Russia that Washington and others say were supplied by Iran.

“We regret that the UN has not moved to carry out a normal investigation of this reported violation,” told the Security Council.

“We are disappointed that the secretariat, apparently yielding to Russian threats, has not carried out the investigatory mandate this council has given it.”

The claims have been denied by Russia, which has argued that there is no mandate for UN officials to travel to Kyiv to investigate the origin of the drones.

Tehran has acknowledged that it supplied Moscow with drones but said they were sent before Russia invaded its neighbour in February.

Britain, France, Germany, the US and Ukraine said the supply of the drones was in breach of a 2015 UN Security Council resolution enshrining the Iran nuclear deal.

They want Mr Guterres to send officials to Kyiv to investigate.

Updated: December 20, 2022, 8:14 AM
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