The “deal” Iran announced on Tuesday for closing some – but not all – of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s probes into its nuclear program is likely, but not final, a key source with knowledge of the nuclear negotiations confirmed to The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
From the start, there was skepticism about the announcement. The IAEA did not issue a public statement nor did it confirm it when asked directly by the Post.
The agency has been pushing Iran since 2018 to explain three undeclared nuclear sites at Turquzabad, Varamin, and Marivan/Abadeh.
Since late 2019, it has also been pressing the ayatollahs to explain illicit nuclear material found at Turquzabad during an IAEA visit to the site, and to reveal the location of various nuclear equipment items.
Despite the Islamic Republic’s attempts to hide them, all the items were unveiled to the world in 2018 when Mossad seized its nuclear archives.
Additionally, in February, Iran was caught with a small amount of molecules of uranium enriched to the 84% level at the Fordow facility: essentially, weaponized uranium. To date, the ayatollahs have said that they only enrich uranium to the mid-level point of 60%.
The claim by Iran on Tuesday was that the IAEA would close its probe into the 84% enrichment issue as well as the one into the undeclared Marivan/Abadeh nuclear site.
IAEA says Iran gave 'satisfactory answer' about one unexplained site
A report put out by the agency on Wednesday said that after years of investigation and a lack of progress with Iran, the Islamic Republic gave a satisfactory answer on one of them.
While the particles could be explained by the presence of a Soviet-operated mine and lab in that location, and the IAEA had no further questions, a senior diplomat said, the IAEA’s assessment remained that Iran carried out explosives testing there decades ago, which was relevant to nuclear weapons.
Whether this meant the IAEA would leave the probe open remained unclear.
The added monitoring equipment included surveillance cameras at a site in Isfahan where centrifuge parts are made, one report said. The other added that the IAEA “awaits Iran’s engagement to address” issues, including the installation of more monitoring equipment and regarding the two remaining sites.
Tehran’s claims of the probes being closed came only days after it said last week that it had tested a ballistic missile with a range of 2,000 km. and only days before the IAEA Board of Governors is set to meet next week.
In meetings in late 2022 and earlier this year, the board threatened to refer Iran’s violations to the UN Security Council for a global snapback of sanctions.
On Wednesday, two reports seen by Reuters said Iran only permitted the IAEA to re-install some of the monitoring equipment originally put in place under the 2015 nuclear deal – that it then ordered removed last year.
The re-installed equipment is a fraction of what the IAEA had planned to set up to improve its surveillance of Iran’s nuclear activities, as the agency said it had agreed with the Islamic Republic in March in a bid to defuse a standoff between both sides over Tehran’s cooperation.
The limited progress described in the reports did, however, include the installation of real-time enrichment-monitoring equipment on the only lines of centrifuges enriching uranium to up to 60% purity – near weapons grade – at Natanz and Fordow, a senior diplomat said.
One IAEA report on Wednesday said that Iran now had 114.1 kg. of uranium enriched to 60% in the form of uranium hexafluoride (UF6), which can easily be enriched further – an increase of 26.6 kg. from the previous quarter.
US Special Envoy on Iran Robert Malley told NPR that “we will use deterrence to make clear to them [Iran] that all options are on the table if we conclude that they’re taking steps that are tantamount to the decision to acquire a bomb. But we also will pursue diplomacy because we think that’s the most verifiable and sustainable way to prevent them from getting a bomb.”
Asked about how soon Tehran could obtain a nuclear weapon, Malley said it was a mere “couple of weeks” away from having weapons-grade uranium. He also noted though that completing the other tasks to develop a nuclear bomb would take longer.
In addition, Axios reported on Tuesday that US Middle East Envoy Brett McGurk paid Oman a visit to explore Iran’s openness to smaller de-escalation steps.
Reuters contributed to this report.