UN atomic watchdog: Iran further raising nuclear stockpile

VIENNA (AP) — The United Nations’ atomic watchdog said Thursday that it believes Iran has significantly increased its stockpile of highly enriched uranium in breach of a 2015 accord with world powers.

The International Atomic Energy Agency told member nations in its confidential quarterly report that Iran has an estimated 33.2 kilograms (73.1 pounds) of uranium enriched to up to 60% fissile purity, an increase of 15.5 kilograms since November.

Such highly enriched uranium can be easily refined to make atomic weapons, which is why world powers have sought to contain Tehran’s nuclear program. The 33.2-kilogram figure brings Iran closer to having enough weapons-grade uranium to produce a nuclear weapon.

In a report to member states about its work in Iran seen by The Associated Press, IAEA estimated that as of Feb. 19, Iran’s stockpile of all enriched uranium was 3197.1 kilograms, an increase of 707.4 kilograms.

The Vienna-based agency said it was unable to verify the exact size of Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium due to limitations Tehran imposed on U.N. inspectors last year. IAEA’s monitoring and verification activities in Iran continue to be “seriously affected” by Iran’s decision to stop letting inspectors access the agency’s monitoring equipment, the report states.

Senior diplomats from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia have been meeting with Iranian officials in Vienna since November to discuss bringing Tehran back into compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The pact eased sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

The United States pulled out of the accord under former President Donald Trump and reimposed sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to resume its uranium enrichment.

The IAEA announced earlier Thursday that Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi would travel to Tehran for meetings with senior Iranian officials on Saturday.

Asked to characterize the cooperation with Iranian officials and whether there had been any progress, Grossi said at a Wednesday press conference in Vienna, “We are working very hard.”