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U.S., allies grapple with response to latest Iran nuclear revelation

United Nations – The US and other world powers are wrestling with how to respond to the recent discovery in Iran of uranium particles enriched to almost 84% – very close to the purity required to make nuclear weapons. A team of inspectors from the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) found the tiny amount of highly enriched uranium during a planned visit to one of Iran’s nuclear facilities and included it in their report.

The IAEA report, seen by CBS News, notes the discovery of some particles enriched to 83.7% at the Fordo nuclear power plant, but does not conclude that Iran is storing over 60% enriched uranium, which the world already knew that Iran did this. Any uranium refined to a purity above 60% is considered highly enriched, and at such levels it is a relatively short technological step to reach the 90% required for weapons.

Iran has long stated that it has no intention of building nuclear weapons, insisting that its nuclear work is strictly for civilian medical and research purposes. The country explained the IAEA team’s latest findings as the result of “unintended fluctuations”.

A student looks at Iran's home-made centrifuges at an exhibition on the country's nuclear achievements in Tehran, Iran, February 8, 2023.  / Photo credit: Vahid Salemi/AP

A student looks at Iran’s home-made centrifuges at an exhibition on the country’s nuclear achievements in Tehran, Iran, February 8, 2023. / Credit: Vahid Salemi/AP

Iran has systematically ramped up its enrichment program for several years – without hiding the moves – in response to the US administration, under former President Donald Trump in 2018, unilaterally withdraw from the nuclear deal with Iran (known by the acronym JCPOA), which imposed limits on its nuclear work.

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Negotiations for a new deal or the revision of the deal the US has backed away from have collapsed, and various signatories to the pact, including Iran, Russia, China, France, Germany, the UK and the US, have all been worried Steps forward by Iran meanwhile. The discovery of even trace amounts of uranium, so close to 90% enriched, set alarm bells ringing again this week.

“We are very concerned by the IAEA Director General’s confirmation that Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) particulate matter containing up to 83.7% U-235 is present at the Fordow facility,” said Peter Stano, senior spokesman for foreign affairs and security policy of the European Commission, said CBS News.

Stano said talks between the IAEA and Iran to settle the matter were ongoing and expected to conclude “soon”, but he had not speculated on their outcome.

Some JCPOA signatories, including the US, argue that there is no legitimate need for a civilian nuclear program for uranium enriched to 60%, which they say is well above the limit imposed by the treaty. The pact limited Iran’s uranium supply to 661 pounds and its enrichment level to 3.67%, which is needed for the country’s nuclear power plants.

Next step: censor Iran?

A Wall Street Journal report quoted diplomats involved in the discussions as saying the US and its European nations were at odds over how to respond to the findings of the latest IAEA report. However, a senior US official familiar with the talks told CBS News that there had been “no split” but the US was concerned about the revelation.

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Israel, a staunch enemy of Iran, has said it will not allow the Islamic Republic to achieve weapons-grade enrichment of uranium, setting this as a “red line.”

“The question at this point is whether there should be a motion of no confidence in Iran in the IAEA Board of Governors next week,” Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group think-tank told CBS News, referring to the mechanism within the agency through which its global members can file a formal complaint.

IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi arrived in Iran on Friday, and Veaz said if he manages to address at least some of the concerns during his day-long visit, “particularly the 84 percent enrichment issue, then so be it [a formal censure of Iran] can be avoided.”

Vaez said the only “disagreement” between the western powers is that “the US prefers to wait for the outcome of the trip before deciding to censor Iran, while the Europeans seem keen to do so anyway.” do”.

The IAEA said in its report that in light of the discovery of the highly enriched uranium particles, it would “increase the frequency and intensity of the agency’s verification activities” at Fordow.

The European Union has been striving to finalize ongoing talks on resuming the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

Spano of the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, said the new concerns over Iran’s enrichment activities “only underscore the importance of concluding talks on reviving the JCPOA as soon as possible, given that this agreement requires international oversight over it.” of Iran’s nuclear program and would bring Iran back to respecting and fulfilling its commitments.”

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