Iran began limiting inspections in a bid to pressure the government of U.S. President Joe Biden to lift crippling sanctions reimposed after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran in 2018.
As part of the agreement, the IAEA has placed approximately 2,000 tamper-evident seals on nuclear materials and equipment. These seals were communicated electronically to the inspectors. Automated measuring devices also provided real-time data from the program.
Talks are currently underway in Vienna for the United States to join the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.
Since the United States’ withdrawal from the agreement, Iran has regularly violated its various restrictions, including on the types of centrifuges it is allowed to use, the amount of enriched uranium it is allowed to store and the purity to which it is allowed to enrich.
In the IAEA report, the agency first published estimates of Iran’s stocks rather than precise numbers, saying that as of May 22, Iran’s total enriched uranium stockpile was of 3,241 kilograms (7,145 pounds), up approximately 273 kilograms (600 pounds) from the last quarterly report.
This is a decrease from an increase of nearly 525 kilograms (1,157 pounds) reported in the last quarterly report.
While it was not immediately clear what led to the decrease, it was an April explosion at its underground nuclear facility in Natanz that affected the centrifuges there. Iran has yet to report on what happened in an attack it called “nuclear terrorism”. Israel, which is widely suspected of carrying out the aggression, has not commented publicly on the matter.
The nuclear deal signed in 2015 with the United States, Germany, France, Great Britain, China and Russia only allows Iran to keep a total stock of 202.8 kilograms (447 pounds) of enriched uranium.
The agency said the current stock includes 62.8 kilograms (138.5 pounds) of uranium enriched up to 20 percent purity and 2.4 kilograms enriched up to 60 percent purity – well above the purity of 3.67% authorized by the JCPOA.
Despite Iran’s violations of the deal, other countries involved stressed that the deal was still important because it allowed international inspectors to continue their surveillance of Iranian nuclear facilities.
Under a confidential agreement called the “Additional Protocol” with Iran, the IAEA collects and analyzes images from a series of surveillance cameras installed at Iranian nuclear sites. These cameras have helped him monitor Tehran’s program to see if he complies with the nuclear deal.
Iran’s outright parliament approved a bill in December that would suspend part of the UN inspections of its nuclear facilities if European signatories did not grant relief from oil and banking sanctions by February.
However, IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi was able to negotiate a last-minute deal in February, under which the IAEA promised it would keep the footage captured by its surveillance cameras and hand them over if diplomats were reaching an agreement in Vienna to lift the sanctions it faces. Otherwise, Tehran has said it will remove the footage.
That deal has yet to be struck, but Grossi was able to negotiate a one-month extension last week.
This means his agency still cannot access the footage taken by the cameras at this time, but could regain access to the material if a deal is reached – a situation Grossi called an emergency measure that was not ” not ideal “.
The last-minute talks further underscored the narrowing of the window for the United States and others to reach deals with Iran as it maintains a firm position with the international community on its atomic program.
Negotiations are continuing in Vienna to see if the United States and Iran can re-enter the agreement, which limited Tehran’s uranium enrichment in return for the lifting of economic sanctions. Iran and the United States are not negotiating directly, however.
The United States is not at the table because it unilaterally withdrew from the deal in 2018 under Trump, which reinstated and increased US sanctions in a campaign of “maximum pressure” to try to force Iran to renegotiate the pact with more concessions. Biden does want to join the deal, however, and there is an American delegation in Vienna participating in indirect talks with Iran, with diplomats from other world powers acting as intermediaries.
The deal promises Iran economic incentives in return for restrictions on its nuclear program. The reimposition of U.S. sanctions has wreaked havoc on the country’s economy, and Tehran has responded by steadily increasing its violations of the agreement’s restrictions, such as increasing the purity of the uranium it enriches and its stocks, in a hitherto unsuccessful effort to pressure other countries for relief.
The ultimate goal of the deal is to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb, which it insists it does not 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.
The negotiations and tensions over the program come as Iran faces a June 18 presidential election to choose the replacement for the relatively moderate Hassan Rouhani, whose administration struck the 2015 nuclear deal. Analysts believe that hardliners have an advantage before the vote.
The IAEA also said that after several months it was still awaiting responses from Iran at three sites where inspections revealed traces of human-made uranium.