Iran’s nuke program ‘present’ to Biden

US President-elect Joe Biden may have less time to prepare for dealing with Iran than he thought.

A handout satellite image shows a closeup view of a building damaged by fire at the Natanz nuclear facility in Natanz, Iran July 8, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A handout satellite image shows a closeup view of a building damaged by fire at the Natanz nuclear facility in Natanz, Iran July 8, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
On Wednesday, reports surfaced from the International Atomic Energy Agency that Iran has already installed a first cascade of advanced centrifuges in the underground Natanz uranium enrichment plant that its deal with major powers says can only be used for first-generation IR-1 machines.
If Biden thought that the ayatollahs might slow the progress of their nuclear program so that he has time to transition into his office and deal with the novel coronavirus crisis, he might have been mistaken.
On one hand, the IAEA report about the advanced centrifuges might have nothing to do with Biden.
The report came out on Wednesday, but it is reporting based on a November 2 visit – meaning prior to Election Day in the US.
On the other hand, the conventional wisdom even then was that Biden would win the election and that he would garner even more votes than he ended up actually accruing.
This means that the Iranians were ready to move forward with their new underground facility regardless (or maybe because of) the pressure it would put on Biden to turn his gaze toward them.
In parallel, reports came out Wednesday that the IAEA revealed that it found the Islamic Republic’s explanations unsatisfactory for how and why certain nuclear-program-related particles were found by IAEA inspectors at sites where they should not have been.
The IAEA made it clear that it will maintain pressure on Tehran to explain the discrepancies.
Yet, the bigger issue remains the new advanced centrifuges being installed.
Iran had previously informed the IAEA that it would transfer three cascades of the uranium-enriching machines from an above-ground pilot plant at the Natanz nuclear site to the underground one after an above-ground centrifuge workshop exploded in an apparent act of sabotage.
Iran has installed and connected the cascade of IR-2m centrifuges but has not fed the cascade with uranium hexafluoride gas, the feedstock for centrifuges, as the confidential IAEA report – obtained by Reuters – said on Wednesday.
Here, there is actually some good news.
Though the IR-2m is more advanced than the IR-1, it is nowhere near as advanced as the IR-4 and IR-6, which Iran finally succeeded in getting to work in 2020.
So it may just be that Iran is trying to restore what it already had above ground.
And if the volume of new IR-2ms stays low and if IR-4 and IR-6s are not installed, Tehran will not get appreciably closer to developing a nuclear bomb than it is now.
But the signal from Iran to Biden is clear: he will not be able to ignore them for long.

Reuters contributed to this report.