VIENNA & PARIS – The UN’s nuclear watchdog group detected uranium particles at two Iranian sites, inspected after months of stonewalling, diplomats say, and it is preparing to fail to convince Tehran, Probably complicates American efforts to revive nuclear diplomacy.
Iran’s efforts to reinstate Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal by the new US administration find and risk Iran’s response, which President Joe Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump abandoned.
Although the sites on which the material was found are believed to have been dormant for nearly two decades, opponents of the nuclear deal, such as Israel’s evidence of undeclared nuclear activities, show that Iran is not acting in good faith .
Iran’s ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Kazem Garibabadi, declined to comment, as did the IAEA itself.
A senior Iranian official said: “We have nothing to hide. That is why we allowed inspectors to visit those sites. “
Iran has set a deadline next week for Biden to remove sanctions imposed by Trump, or it will stop IAEA inspections under the deal, which lifted sanctions in exchange for sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program. There is also next week when the IAEA is expected to release a quarterly report on Iran’s nuclear activities.
Seven diplomats told Reuters that the agency would use that opportunity to reprimand Iran for failing to understand its satisfaction with how uranium particles were injured at two undisclosed sites. The reprimand may come in either a quarterly report or an additional report issued on the same day.
US intelligence agencies and the IAEA believe that Iran had a secret, coordinated nuclear weapons program in 2003, which Iran rejected. The 2015 nuclear deal effectively drew a line under that past, but Iran still requires proof of undisclosed past activities or material for the IAEA.
The material was found during Snap IAEA inspections, which were carried out at two sites in August and September last year, after which Iran prohibited use for seven months.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that radioactive material was found in samples taken by inspectors at two sites, although the newspaper did not reveal what the material was.
Four diplomats who followed the agency’s work told Reuters that the substance found in those samples was uranium.
Identifying the material as uranium makes Iran a burden to explain this, because uranium enriched at the core of nuclear weapons can be used. Iran is responsible for all uranium, so the IAEA can verify that it is not changing any weapons program.
Sources said the uranium found last year was not rich. But still, its presence reveals undeclared nuclear material or activities in places that Iran will have to declare.
The full conclusions of the IAEA are a closely guarded secret within the agency and only a few countries have been informed of the specifics.
Five diplomats said the IAEA gave unsatisfactory answers after confronting Iran with the findings. Two of them said Iran told the agency that the traces were the result of contamination by radioactive equipment that moved there from another site, but the IAEA investigated and the particles at the sites did not match.
A diplomat gave information on the exchanges but did not say in detailed findings that Iran had given “reputable answers”, describing Iran’s response as a “specific delaying strategy”.
The agency has stated that it is one of the sites that host uranium conversion work, one step in processing the material before enrichment, and the other has been used for explosive testing.
Seven diplomats said they expected the agency to fail to tell Iran about the mark found at two locations, as well as its continued failure to interpret previously found material at another site in Tehran, Turkamabad.
Diplomats said it was unclear whether the IAEA’s 35 countries board of governors, which met a week after the quarterly report, would condemn Iran. Many said efforts to settle the 2015 settlement by bringing Washington back were focused.
“Everyone is waiting on the Americans,” a diplomat said.