Access to key Iranian data has been lacking since February 23, UN watchdog says


VIENNA – The United Nations atomic watchdog has not been able to access data important for monitoring Iran’s nuclear program since late February, when the Islamic Republic began restricting international inspections of its facilities, has said the agency declared on Monday.

The International Atomic Energy Agency said in a confidential document distributed to member countries and seen by The Associated Press that it had “not had access to the data of its online enrichment monitors and seals. electronic, nor had access to the measurement records recorded by its measuring devices ”since February 23.

While the IAEA and Iran had previously acknowledged that the restrictions limited access to surveillance cameras at Iranian facilities, Monday’s report said they went much further. The IAEA has acknowledged that it can only provide an estimate of Iran’s overall nuclear stockpile as it continues to enrich uranium to its highest level on record.

Iran has started limiting inspections in a bid to pressure President Joe Biden’s government to lift crippling sanctions reimposed after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran in 2018.

As part of the agreement, the IAEA has placed approximately 2,000 tamper-evident seals on nuclear materials and equipment. These seals were communicated electronically to the inspectors. The automated measuring devices also provided real-time program data.

Talks are currently underway in Vienna for the United States to join the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA.

Since the United States’ withdrawal from the agreement, Iran has regularly violated its various restrictions, including on the types of centrifuges it is allowed to use, the amount of enriched uranium it is allowed to store and the purity to which it is allowed to enrich.

In the IAEA report, the agency first published estimates of Iran’s stocks rather than precise figures, saying that as of May 22, Iran’s total enriched uranium stockpile was of 7,145 pounds, up about 600 pounds from the last quarterly report.

That was down from an increase of nearly 1,157 pounds reported in the last quarterly report.

While it was not immediately clear what led to the decrease, it was an April explosion at its underground nuclear facility in Natanz that affected the centrifuges there. Iran has yet to report on what happened in an attack it called “nuclear terrorism”. Israel, which is widely believed to have carried out the assault, has not commented publicly.

The nuclear deal signed in 2015 with the United States, Germany, France, Great Britain, China and Russia only allows Iran to keep a total stockpile of 447 pounds of enriched uranium.

The agency said the current inventory includes 138.5 pounds of uranium enriched to 20% purity and 2.4 kilograms enriched to 60% purity – well above the purity of 3.67 % authorized by the JCPOA.

Despite Iran’s violations of the deal, the other countries involved stressed that the deal was still important because it allowed international inspectors to continue their surveillance of Iranian nuclear facilities.

Within the framework of a confidential agreement called “additional protocol” with Iran, the IAEA collects and analyzes the images of a series of surveillance cameras installed on Iranian nuclear sites. These cameras have helped him monitor Tehran’s program to see if he is sticking to the nuclear deal.

Iran’s radical parliament in December approved a bill that would suspend part of UN inspections of its nuclear facilities if European signatories did not ease oil and banking sanctions by February.

IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi, however, was able to negotiate a last-minute deal in February, under which the IAEA promised to keep the footage captured by its surveillance cameras and hand them over if diplomats succeed. an agreement in Vienna to lift the sanctions it faces. Otherwise, Tehran has said it will remove the footage.

That deal has yet to be struck, but Grossi was able to negotiate a one-month extension last week.

This means his agency still cannot access the footage taken by the cameras at this time, but could regain access to the material if a deal is reached – a situation Grossi called an emergency measure that was ” not ideal ”.

The last-minute talks further underscored the narrowing of the window for the United States and others to reach deals with Iran as it maintains a firm position with the international community on its atomic program.

Negotiations are continuing in Vienna to see if the United States and Iran can enter into the deal, which limited Tehran’s uranium enrichment in return for the lifting of economic sanctions. However, Iran and the United States are not negotiating directly.

The United States is not at the table because it unilaterally withdrew from the deal in 2018 under Trump, which reinstated and increased US sanctions in a campaign of “maximum pressure” to try to force Iran to renegotiate the pact with more concessions. Biden does want to join the deal, however, and there is an American delegation in Vienna participating in indirect talks with Iran, with diplomats from other world powers acting as intermediaries.

The deal promises economic incentives to Iran in return for restrictions on its nuclear program. The reimposition of U.S. sanctions has wreaked havoc on the country’s economy, and Tehran has responded by steadily increasing its violations of the deal’s restrictions, such as increasing the purity of the uranium it enriches and its stocks, in a hitherto unsuccessful effort to pressure other countries to provide relief.

The ultimate goal of the deal is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, which it insists it does not want to do. Iran now has enough enriched uranium to make a bomb, but nowhere near the amount it had before the nuclear deal was signed.

The negotiations and tensions around the program come as Iran faces an upcoming presidential election on June 18 to choose the replacement of the relative moderate Hassan Rouhani, whose administration struck the 2015 nuclear deal. Analysts believe that the hardliners have an advantage when voting.

The IAEA also said that after several months it was still awaiting responses from Iran at three sites where inspections revealed traces of human-made uranium.

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