In a move sure to heighten nuclear tensions in the Middle East, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that it has verified the production of 3.6g of uranium metal at a plant in Iran, Al Jazeera reported.
The new breach of limits in the landmark deal – reached in 2015 with the United States, China, Russia, Germany, France, Britain and the European Union – violated a 15-year ban on “producing or acquiring plutonium or uranium metals or their alloys.”
On the heels of the warnings from the UN agency, France and Russia have urged Iran to show restraint after it started producing uranium metal, the report said.
“To preserve the political space to find a negotiated solution, we call on Iran not to take any new measures that would further worsen the nuclear situation, already extremely worrying due to the accumulation of violations of the Vienna Accord, including the latest just reported by the IAEA,” French foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said on Thursday.
Earlier, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov urged Tehran to show restraint, the report said.
“We understand the logic of their actions and the reasons prompting Iran. Despite this it is necessary to show restraint and a responsible approach,” he told state news agency RIA Novosti.
The IAEA said in a statement on Wednesday that Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi informed its member states “about recent developments regarding Iran’s R&D activities on uranium metal production as part of its stated aim to produce fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor.”
The confidential IAEA report, seen by Reuters news agency, said that Iran planned to carry out research on uranium metal using natural uranium before moving on to uranium metal enriched to 20%.
Uranium enriched to 20% is a short technical step away from weapons-grade 90% enrichment, experts say.
“The Agency on 8 February verified 3.6 gram of uranium metal at Iran’s Fuel Plate Fabrication Plant (FPFP) in Esfahan,” the IAEA statement said.
In a joint statement last month, European foreign ministers warned there was no credible civilian use for the material, the Times of Israel reported.
“The production of uranium metal has potentially grave military implications,” said the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany.
“We strongly urge Iran to halt this activity, and return to compliance with its JCPOA commitments without further delay if it is serious about preserving the deal,” said the ministers.
Russia’s Ryabkov said Iran’s move demonstrated Tehran’s “determination not to put up with the current situation” after it warned that time was running out for US President Joe Biden’s administration to save the agreement, the report said.
However, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has already said that the US will not remove sanctions, until Iran returns to the original Vienna Accord agreement, creating a volatile standoff in the region.
In addition, Blinken said that the US would consult with Israel and its Middle East allies before taking any action on Iran.
Israel’s top general — Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi — has warned that its military was refreshing its operational plans against Iran, and that any US return to a 2015 nuclear accord with Tehran would be “wrong.”