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IAEA finds uranium particles at undisclosed Iranian site

What happened: The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in its quarterly report that it found uranium particles at a site in Iran that was not declared by the country’s nuclear authorities.

  • The report, according to the BBC, did not say which site the particles were taken from, but it is widely believed to be from a location in Tehran’s Turquzabad district, where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alleged Iran had a “secret atomic warehouse”.
  • The IAEA also confirmed on Monday that Iran is enriching uranium at its underground Fordow facility and rapidly accelerating enrichment more broadly, in clear violation of the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal. The IAEA said Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium had grown to 372 kilograms — which marks the addition of 130kg since the IAEA’s last quarterly report in late August, and exceeds a 300kg cap on Iran’s stockpile of low enriched uranium set by the JCPOA.
  • The UK, France, Germany (E3) and the EU have expressed their deep concern with the IAEA announcement. They said in a statement: “Iran’s action is inconsistent with the JCPOA’s clear provisions on Fordow and has potentially severe proliferation implications. It represents a regrettable acceleration of Iran’s disengagement from commitments under the JCPOA.” They noted their concern at Iran’s lack of cooperation with the IAEA and called on them to return to its nuclear verification obligations under the Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement.
  • Whilst reiterating their commitment to consider the dispute resolution mechanism to resolve the issue of Iran’s non-compliance, they added: “The E3/EU have fully upheld their JCPOA commitments, including sanctions-lifting as foreseen under the JCPOA. It is now critical that Iran upholds its JCPOA commitments and works with all JCPOA participants to de-escalate tensions. We stand ready to continue our diplomatic efforts to create the conditions for, and to facilitate, the de-escalation of tensions in the Middle East, in the interest of preserving international peace and security. These efforts are however made increasingly difficult by Iran’s latest actions.”

Context: For the first time since the nuclear agreement was signed, the E3 has publicly expressed concern that Iran is not providing timely cooperation to a request made by the IAEA.

  • Since the US pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal in May 2018 and imposed sanctions, Iran has been slowly violating its provisions to pressure other nations to provide relief from sanctions.
  • Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced Iran’s fourth violation of the JCPOA by confirming Iran would begin injecting uranium hexafluoride gas into the, up-to-then, dormant 1,044 centrifuges at the Fordow facility.
  • Yesterday Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif refuted the claim in the E3 statement that Europe had fulfilled all the sanctions relief it was required to under the deal. He tweeted: “To my EU/E3 Colleagues: ’Fully upheld commitments under JCPOA’ YOU? Really? Just show ONE that you’ve upheld in the last 18 months.”
  • On 10 November, US President Donald Trump tweeted that it would be a “very positive step” if Iran returned former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who went missing in Iran’s Kish Island in 2007. Trump, in the same tweet, also said it would be a very bad step if Iran was enriching uranium (which had been severely limited under the JCPOA that he withdrew from).

Looking ahead: After the meeting between EU Foreign Ministers on Monday, the E3 decided not to trigger the dispute mechanism within the agreement that could result in snap-back sanctions. Instead, the European statement yesterday signals Iran’s latest steps are now approaching its red lines, but they are still looking for a diplomatic way forward.

  • In September the E3 said ‘the time has come for Iran to accept negotiation on a long-term framework for its nuclear programme as well as on issues related to regional security, including its missiles programme and other means of delivery.’