US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on May 30, 2015 in Geneva.
(photo credit: AFP PHOTO / POOL / SUSAN WALSH)
Contrary to the Obama administration’s claims that Iran has frozen its nuclear program, international inspectors discovered recently that the Islamic Republic’s stockpile of nuclear fuel has increased by about 20 percent over the course of the last 18 months, The New York Times is reporting on Tuesday.
The news comes as the P5+1 powers and Iran seek to strike a final status accord with less than one month before the deadline.
The revelations have confounded Western officials who are unsure as to why the Iranians have increased their stockpiles during the course of the negotiations. According to The New York Times
, analysts speculate that the Iranians may be seeking a contingency plan should the talks fail to produce an agreement. There is also the possibility that the Iranians have encountered technical problems that have rendered its enriched uranium unusable for weapons.
The bolstered stockpiles were first noticed by International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors, according to the Times
If accurate, it could prove to be another obstacle to the Obama administration’s efforts to convince a skeptical Congress to support a final nuclear agreement with Iran.
Last week, Iran’s foreign minister said that his government will discuss "other solutions" to Western demands that it allow UN inspectors access to its military sites and to interview its nuclear scientists.
The question of access for international inspectors has become one of the main sticking points between Tehran and six world powers as they try to overcome obstacles to a final nuclear agreement one month before of a deadline.
"We have decided to discuss other solutions to resolve this issue," Mohammad Javad Zarif was quoted as saying by the Mehr news agency, after holding six hours of meetings on Saturday with his US counterpart John Kerry.
Western officials say inspections of military sites by the IAEA and access to Iran's scientists are critical to checking whether Iran is pursuing a clandestine nuclear weapons program.
Iran denies any ambition to develop a nuclear weapon and says its program is purely peaceful.
The United States and France have threatened to block any deal that does not allow access but Iran's Supreme Leader has explicitly ruled out any inspections or interviews, creating an obstacle ahead of the June 30 deadline to reach an agreement.
Zarif did not give further details about how Iranian negotiators planned to resolve the issue and said there were still several points of difference between Iran and the United States, implying there had been no major breakthrough in his bilateral talks with Kerry.
"We have decided to work full time for the next three or four weeks to see whether or not it will be possible to reach an agreement," he said.Reuters contributed to this report.