The Iranian regime has begun producing uranium metal, in violation of the 2015 nuclear deal that Tehran agreed to with world powers, according to the United Nations’ atomic watchdog agency.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Rafael Grossi told member nations that his inspectors confirmed on Feb. 8 that 3.6 grams of uranium metal had been produced at Iran’s Isfahan plant, the Vienna-based organization said.
Iran had previously announced the move, saying its plans to conduct research and development on uranium metal production were part of its “declared aim to design an improved type of fuel,” according to the IAEA.
Grossi told member states in January that Iran planned to conduct research and development activities on uranium metal production “as part of its declared aim to design an improved type of fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor,” the agency previously said.
Uranium metal can also be used for a nuclear weapon; research on its production is specifically prohibited under the nuclear deal—the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA—that Iran signed with Germany, France, Britain, China, Russia, and the United States in 2015.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee called the latest development “a dangerous step toward a nuclear weapon.”
“Yet this action is allowed under the JCPOA in 10 years. To permanently prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, key flaws of the JCPOA—including the sunset clauses & inadequate inspections—must be fixed,” the lobbying group said in a statement.
Russian official Sergei Ryabkov told state media: “We understand the logic of their actions and the reasons prompting Iran. Despite this, it is necessary to show restraint and a responsible approach.”
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters in Washington that he hadn’t seen the report.
“I think more broadly this is—and everything we have said about Iran’s behavior in recent weeks in months—it’s the steps that it’s taken to further distance itself from the JCPOA,” he said.
“That undergirds our concern, and it undergirds the urgency with which we are approaching this challenge, and the urgency with which we are approaching our allies and our partners and undertaking these consultations with members of Congress to ensure that we have an approach to Iran that is harmonized and that’s synchronized and that has the best chance of success.”
Former President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the agreement in 2018 but other members remained part of it, even as Iran has defied particulars on multiple occasions. Tehran has been using violations of the deal to put pressure on the other signatories to provide more incentives to Iran to offset crippling sanctions reimposed after the U.S. pullout.
The regime declared last month that it would no longer abide by the limits of the JCPOA.
The ultimate goal of the deal was to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, something the regime in Tehran insists it doesn’t want to do. Iran now has enough enriched uranium to make a bomb, but nowhere near the amount it had before the nuclear deal was signed. Still, the country is a mere “matter of weeks” from having enough material to produce a weapon, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said recently.
When Iran announced its plans in January to produce uranium metal, the German, French, and British foreign ministries issued a joint statement saying they were “deeply concerned.”
“Iran has no credible civilian use for uranium metal,” the nations said, urging Iran to halt the activity. “The production of uranium metal has potentially grave military implications.”
U.S. President Joe Biden has said he wants to rejoin the JCPOA but also said last week he wouldn’t lift sanctions against the regime unless it halts uranium enrichment.
Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told officials during a meeting this month that Iran “has fulfilled all its obligations under the deal,” and accused the United States and Germany, France, and the UK of not fulfilling theirs.
The United States must lift all sanctions or Iran won’t comply with the accords, he added.
Jack Phillips, Reuters, Lily Zhou, and the Associated Press contributed to this report.