European powers decry latest nuclear move by Iran

BERLIN (AP) — Germany, France and Britain are voicing “grave concern” over a further move by Iran that they say is a serious violation of its commitments under the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, warning that it threatens the outcome of talks aimed at bringing the United States back into the agreement.

The three European powers’ foreign ministers issued a joint statement Tuesday over a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, that Iran intends to produce enriched uranium metal.

Since then-President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement in 2018, Iran has gradually been violating its restrictions to put pressures on the remaining parties — the three European nations, Russia and China — to come up with economic incentives to offset crippling American sanctions.

Among other things, Tehran has started enriching uranium to well above the purity allowed under the agreement. It has also been spinning advanced centrifuges, producing uranium metal and stockpiling more uranium than allowed.

Uranium metal can also be used for a nuclear bomb, and research on its production is specifically prohibited under the nuclear deal. The IAEA already said in February that its inspectors had confirmed that Iran has begun the production of uranium metal.

The IAEA said Director-General Rafael Grossi informed the agency’s board of governors that Iran now intends to use uranium enriched up to 20% in making fuel for its Tehran Research Reactor and that “in doing so, as part of a multi-stage process,” it will also produce uranium metal enriched up to 20%.

Iran on Tuesday told the agency that the enriched uranium will be shipped to the research and development lab at its Isfahan fuel fabrication plant, where it will be converted to uranium tetrafluoride and then to enriched uranium metal before being used to manufacture fuel, the IAEA said.

The European foreign ministers said of Tehran’s latest step that “Iran has no credible civilian need for uranium metal (research and development) and production, which are a key step in the development of a nuclear weapon.”

They said it was “all the more concerning” given that no date has been set for the resumption of negotiations in Vienna aimed at bringing the U.S. back into the nuclear deal and Iran back into full compliance, and that Iran has “significantly curtailed” IAEA access.

“We have repeatedly stressed that time is on no-one’s side,” the statement said. “With its latest steps, Iran is threatening a successful outcome to the Vienna talks despite the progress achieved in six rounds of negotiations to date.”

The 2015 accord is aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Tehran denies it is seeking such an arsenal.

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