image Photo: IAEA, Reuters

IAEA: Iran fails to explain uranium traces

A fresh diplomatic clash may between the West and Iran may be on the horizon, after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) revealed that the Islamic Republic has once again failed to explain traces of uranium found at several undeclared sites.

The latest report by the United Nations nuclear watchdog organization was released yesterday, coming amid talks in Vienna aimed at returning both Iran and the United States into compliance with term of the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement.

After former US President Donald Trump abandoned the deal 3 years ago and re-imposed sanctions on Iran, Tehran openly violated its nuclear obligations under the JCPOA by rebuilding stockpiles of enriched uranium, enriching it to higher levels of fissile purity and installing advanced centrifuges to speed up production.

Last March, the 6 European powers who were party to the 2015 deal, had been lobbying the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors to adopt a resolution at its quarterly meeting criticizing the Ayatollah regime’s latest breaches, including lack of explanation for the origin of the particles and ending the basis for snap IAEA inspections. The so-called E3 nations – Britain, France and Germany – scrapped that call, however, after IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi announced fresh talks with Iran. At the time, diplomats said they backed away from the condemnation to avoid escalation and make room for diplomacy.

Nevertheless, “After many months, Iran has not provided the necessary explanation for the presence of the nuclear material particles at any of the three locations where the Agency has conducted complementary accesses (inspections),” read Grossi’s latest report to member states,  seen by Reuters.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long insisted that Iran has never relinquished its quest to obtain nuclear weapons, and repeatedly pledged that Jerusalem will never permit Tehran to acquire them.

“In the Middle East, there is no threat that is more serious, more dangerous, more pressing than that posed by the fanatical regime in Iran,” stated Netanyahu during a joint press conference in Jerusalem alongside visiting-United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in April.

“Iran continues to support terrorists around the world in five continents, threatening civilians everywhere. Iran has never given up its quest for nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them,” charged the Israeli leader, adding that, “Iran consistently and outrageously calls for Israel’s annihilation and works towards that goal.”

Any new deal with Iran, says Israel, must mandate a wider scope and greater enforcement.

It will now be up to the E3 to decide whether to revive their push for a resolution against Iran, which could possibly derail the renewed nuclear talks in Austria.

“The Director General is concerned that the technical discussions between the Agency and Iran have not yielded the expected results,” the report said.

Grossi had hoped to report more advancement before the board meets again next week.

“The lack of progress in clarifying the Agency’s questions concerning the correctness and completeness of Iran’s safeguards declarations seriously affects the ability of the Agency to provide assurance of the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program,” it added.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told a televised weekly news conference that his country is making major strides at the nuclear meetings with six world powers.

“Each round of talks in Vienna could have been the final round. We should not rush. We have made significant progress but key issues remain,” Khatibzadeh told a televised weekly news conference. “There is no stalemate in the talks.”

The indirect talks were launched in April to work out steps that Tehran and Washington must take on sanctions and nuclear activities to revive the nuclear pact.

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator expressed doubt that the current round will be the last, saying the international delegations may need to return to their capitals for consultations.

“The negotiations are very complex, and we have now reached the main issues of dispute,” Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said while speaking to Iranian state TV from Vienna.

Sources familiar with the talks say that some of the remaining issues include the reversal of the Islamic Republic’s various breaches of the JCPOA, such as its enrichment with advanced centrifuges and production of uranium metal.

While the administration of US President Joe Biden has said Washington will return to the pact if Tehran first resumes compliance with its strict limits on uranium enrichment – a potential pathway to nuclear bombs – Iran has demanded the US punitive measures be nullified before it will take any action.

“This is one of the key issues that has slowed down the talks. All sanctions, whether nuclear or non-nuclear, imposed by Trump should be lifted,” an Iranian official told Reuters.

“All sanctions should be lifted and then it should be verified by Iran … then we will reverse our nuclear steps,” reiterated Foreign Ministry Spokesman Khatibzadeh.

According to a Reuters count, the US Treasury under Trump imposed sanctions on over 700 Iranian entities and individuals, related to its nuclear program, terrorism, missile development and human rights violations.

The US blacklisting targeted some 2 dozen institutions vital to Iran’s economy – like its Central Bank and national oil company – through application of American law designed to punish foreign actors for supporting terrorism or weapons proliferation.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) and its Quds Force foreign paramilitary and espionage arm were also designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

The IRGC’s political influence is expected to expand after Iran’s 18 June presidential election, when a hardline president close to the elite force is expected to win.

7 candidates have been approved by the country’s 12-member Guardian Council. They are: Member of the Islamic Consultative Assembly Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh, former Central Bank Governor Abdolnaser Hemmati, former Secretary of Supreme National Security Council Saeed Jalili, former Isfahan Governor Mohsen Mehralizadeh, Chief Justice Ebrahim Raeisi, former IRGC Commander-in-Chief Mohsen Rezaee and Majlis Research Center President Alireza Zakani.

Current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is barred from running due to the expiration of his two, 4-year terms in office.