Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
The head of the UN nuclear watchdog warned on Tuesday that the restrictions his inspectors face in Iran threaten to only give the world a “very fuzzy picture” of Tehran’s program as it enriches the world. uranium closer than ever to military grade levels.
Speaking in a broad interview with The Associated Press, Rafael Mariano Grossi said he wanted to tell Iran that there was “no way around” its International Agency inspectors. atomic energy if the Islamic Republic wanted to be “a country respected in the community of nations.
“We have to work together,” Grossi said from a luxury hotel in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, after visiting the country’s first nuclear power plant. “They have to work together. I will make sure they understand that in us they will have a partner.
Grossi’s insistence that the Vienna-based IAEA remains “an auditor” to the world has come as negotiations fail in Vienna to revive Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal. Hours earlier, the head of Iran’s civilian nuclear program had insisted that his country would deny the agency access to a sensitive centrifuge assembly plant.
This Karaj factory was the subject of what Iran describes as a sabotage attack in June. Tehran has blamed the assault on Israel amid a regional shadow war that has spread since former President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled America out of Iran’s historic nuclear deal with world powers. Iran has since refused IAEA access to replace cameras damaged in the incident.
âIf the international community through us, through the IAEA, can’t see clearly how many centrifuges or what capacity they can haveâ¦ what you have is a very blurry picture,â Grossi said. âIt will give you the illusion of the real image. But not the real image. That’s why this is so important.â
Grossi called “just absurd” an Iranian claim that saboteurs used IAEA cameras in the attack on the Karaj centrifuge site. Tehran has provided no evidence to support this claim, although it is another sign of friction between inspectors and Iran.
Since the collapse of the nuclear deal, Tehran has started enriching uranium to up to 60% purity – a short technical step compared to military grade levels of 90%. The deal limited enrichment to 3.67%, enough for use in a power plant. The country’s stockpile of enriched uranium grows daily far beyond the scope of the 2015 agreement, which saw Tehran agree to limit its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. It also spins ever more advanced centrifuges, which are also prohibited by the agreement.
While stressing that he was not involved in the political negotiations underway in Vienna, Grossi acknowledged the progress made by Iran as the failure of the agreement meant that modifications to the original agreement would have to be made. .
âThe reality is that we are dealing with a very different Iran,â he said. “2022 is so different from 2015 that there will have to be adjustments that take into account these new realities so that our inspectors can inspect whatever countries agree to the political table.
“There is no other country than those which manufacture nuclear weapons reaching these high levels” of uranium enrichment, Grossi said of Iran. âI have said many times that this does not mean that Iran has a nuclear weapon. But it does mean that this level of enrichment requires an intense verification effort. “
The Iranian mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Grossi’s comments.
In Vienna, however, concern is growing among European nations at the negotiating table. The United States has remained out of direct talks since the deal was abandoned.
“Without rapid progress, in light of Iran’s rapid advance in its nuclear program, the (deal) will become an empty shell very soon,” they warned in a statement overnight.
Apparently responding to criticism, Iranian negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani wrote on Twitter: âSome actors persist in their habit of blaming, instead of true diplomacy.
But Iranian negotiators who entered the talks for the first time in months under newly elected radical President Ebrahim Raisi have taken maximalist positions. Bagheri Kani himself has described the previous six rounds of negotiations with a team under former President Hassan Rouhani as a mere “project”.
Asked about the difference between the two administrations, Grossi said “the change is palpable”.
“The president himself and the people around him have made it very clear that they have opinions about the program,” he said. “They have strong opinions about the interactions Iran has had” with both the IAEA and the parties to the nuclear deal.
He also described cooperation with the Raisi administration as “slower than expected”.
âWe were able to start this relationship pretty late, I would say,â Grossi said.
Meanwhile, satellite photos obtained by the PA show construction underway in the mountain south of Iran’s Natanz nuclear power plant, twice the target of alleged Israeli attacks. Another above-ground facility is being built at Iran’s Fordo underground facility, which also began uranium enrichment amid the Vienna talks in defiance of the nuclear deal.
Grossi said Iran had informed the IAEA of the ongoing construction and that its inspectors were “following” the progress at the sites.
Regionally, Saudi Arabia has started exploring nuclear power. Unlike the United Arab Emirates – which has a strict deal with the United States that ensures they don’t enrich their own uranium – Saudi Arabia says it wants a centrifugation program. This opens up the risk of nuclear proliferation as the kingdom has threatened to rush for a nuclear weapon if Iran gets one. Grossi called the talks between Riyadh and the IAEA “very positive”.
And in Israel, long considered a nuclear-weapon state, a massive construction project continues at its secret nuclear reactor near Dimona, which is not under IAEA oversight. Iran often refers to Israel’s weapons program as an international double standard given the scrutiny of Tehran’s civilian program.
Asked about Israel, Grossi said, âI think the international community would like every country to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and place all facilities under IAEA safeguards.
He stressed the importance of ensuring that IAEA inspectors have unlimited capacity to monitor and access Iran’s rapidly accelerating nuclear program.
âThe problem is, the more time goes by and you lose the ability to record what’s going on, then as soon as that ability is restored, the inspectors come back and start putting the puzzle together again,â he said. “There can be gaps. And those gaps are not a good thing to have.”
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