VIENNA (AP) — The U.N. atomic watchdog said Wednesday it believes Iran has further increased its stockpile of highly enriched uranium in a short, technical step away from weapons-grade levels.
The International Atomic Energy Agency also expressed growing concerns about Tehran’s lack of involvement in an investigation that has become a sticking point in efforts to revive the Islamic Republic’s nuclear deal with world powers.
In its confidential quarterly report, the IAEA told member states it believed Iran had an estimated 55.6 kilograms (122.6 pounds) of uranium enriched to 60 percent fissile purity, an increase of 12.5 kilograms since May.
This enrichment to 60% purity is a short, technical step away from 90% weapon quality levels. Non-proliferation experts have warned that Iran now has enough 60% enriched uranium to reprocess it into fuel for at least one nuclear bomb.
The IAEA report, seen by The Associated Press, also estimated that as of Aug. 21, Iran’s stockpile of all enriched uranium was 3,621.3 kilograms — an increase of 365.5 kilograms from the last quarterly report in May.
The Vienna-based IAEA said it was unable to verify the exact size of Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium because of Tehran’s restrictions on UN inspectors last year and the removal of the agency’s monitoring and surveillance equipment in June at facilities in Iran.
While Iran has long kept its program peaceful, officials are now openly discussing Tehran’s ability to seek an atomic bomb if it wanted to.
The IAEA’s assessment comes amid efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which eased sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
The United States unilaterally withdrew from the deal in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump and reimposed sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to begin backing away from the deal’s terms.
Iran last week sent a written response to negotiations on a final draft of a road map for the parties to return to the scrappy nuclear deal, although the US disputed Tehran’s offer. Neither side clarified the content.
If the deal is renewed, the IAEA report said, the lack of surveillance and monitoring since the IAEA’s cameras were removed in June would require “corrective action” to restore its knowledge of Iran’s activities during that period. .
In a separate report, IAEA officials said they were “increasingly concerned” that Iran had not engaged in the agency’s investigation into artificial uranium particles found at three undeclared sites in the country, which has become a key sticking point in talks on a renewed deal .
Last week, Iran’s hardline president Ebrahim Raisi argued that the IAEA investigation into the matter should be stopped in order to renew the 2015 deal.
The IAEA has been seeking answers from Iran to its questions about the particles for years. US intelligence agencies, Western nations and the IAEA have said Iran operated an organized nuclear weapons program by 2003. Iran has long denied it ever sought nuclear weapons.
Iran was criticized by the IAEA’s governing board, which represents member states, in June for failing to answer questions about the sites to the satisfaction of inspectors.
Because Iran has not cooperated further with the IAEA on the matter or offered a “credible” explanation for the presence of these particles, the IAEA’s latest report says the agency is “unable to provide assurance that its nuclear program Iran is exclusively peaceful.”