Thursday, January 21, 2021

'Grave military implications': Iran making uranium metal alarms Europe

Britain, France and Germany say Tehran has ‘no credible civilian use’ for fuel that it previously pledged not to produce

Iranian atomic enrichment facilities
Atomic enrichment facilities in a file image released by Iran. The International Atomic Energy Agency says the country is advancing research on producing uranium metal. Photograph: Atomic Energy Organization of Ir/AFP/Getty Images
Agence France Presse

European powers have voiced deep concern over Iran’s plans to produce uranium metal, warning that Tehran has “no credible civilian use” for the element.

“The production of uranium metal has potentially grave military implications,” the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany said in a joint statement on Saturday.

Iran had signed up to a 15-year ban on “producing or acquiring plutonium or uranium metals or their alloys” under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) signed in 2015 with world powers.

“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.

Their call came after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Iran had notified the nuclear watchdog it was advancing research on uranium metal production, aiming to provide advanced fuel for a research reactor in Tehran.

In a response to the foreign ministers’ statement, Iran’s atomic energy organisation urged the IAEA to avoid creating any “misunderstanding”, adding that it had not yet “presented the design information questionnaire of the uranium metal factory” to the watchdog.

This would be done “after carrying out the necessary preparations and … within the deadline set by law”, the organisation said, in reference to a five-month deadline set by the Iranian parliament in December mandating Tehran to ready the factory.It said it hoped the IAEA would not cause further “misunderstanding in the future, by refraining from mentioning unnecessary details in its reports”.

The landmark 2015 deal agreed between Iran and the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany to limit Tehran’s nuclear programme has been largely in tatters since Donald Trump withdrew the US in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions.

The Iranian government has signalled a readiness to engage with the US president-elect, Joe Biden, who takes office on 20 January and who has expressed willingness to return to diplomacy with Tehran.

Biden on Saturday named the lead US negotiator of the Obama-era Iran accord, Wendy Sherman, as deputy secretary of state. It marks another clear sign that Biden wants to return to the accord under which Iran drastically slashed its nuclear programme in exchange for promises of sanctions relief.

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