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Friday 18 November 2016
The head of the United Nations agency that oversees the Iranian nuclear deal warned Tehran on Thursday to stick to the accord after it was found for the second time to have breached one of its terms.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said last week that Iran had stockpiled slightly more than the allowable 130 metric tons of heavy water. Spent fuel can be taken from the heavy water to produce plutonium for a nuclear weapon.
Details emerged the day after Donald Trump’s election as U.S. president. During the campaign, Mr. Trump talked about tearing up the July 2015 deal between Iran, the U.S. and five other world powers. Since election day, he hasn’t commented publicly on the agreement.
Yukiya Amano, head of the IAEA, told the agency’s board that it was the second time Iran’s inventory had exceeded 130 metric tons. He confirmed that Iran had pledged to transfer excess heavy water out of the country under the agency’s supervision.
“It is important that such situations should be avoided in future in order to maintain international confidence in the implementation of the JCPOA, which represents a clear gain for nuclear verification in Iran,” Mr. Amano said, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the nuclear accord’s formal name.
Mr. Amano said Iran “is preparing to transfer a quantity of heavy water to other countries” and the agency is monitoring this.
The IAEA said in last week’s report Iran had indicated it would reduce its heavy water stockpile soon to 125 metric tons.
After Mr. Amano’s comments Thursday, Iran’s permanent representative to the agency, Reza Najafi, said Iran has been in contact with “potential buyers” of the material and that it may reduce the stockpile to below 125 metric tons.
“Iran is making some preparations. It needs some work to be done,” he said.
Mr. Najafi argued that the 130-metric-ton target was not a hard limit in the agreement.
Mr. Amano said his decision to air his concerns was not a result of Mr. Trump’s election last week.
“The reason why I expressed this concern is the fact that the inventory of heavy water surpassed 130 [metric] tons for the second time,” he said.
Iran is meeting its other commitments under the nuclear deal, the IAEA has repeatedly said. Those include a commitment not to separate plutonium or reprocess spent fuel for 15 years. Iran has also pledged to redesign and rebuild its Arak nuclear reactor so it doesn't produce weapons-grade plutonium.
When the second violation surfaced, U.S. officials played it down, stressing Tehran had made no effort to hide the material from the agency and had pledged to correct the situation.
However, on Thursday at the agency’s Board meeting, U.S. ambassador to the IAEA Laura Holgate said “Iran must strictly adhere to all commitments” and urged Tehran to take steps to ensure its stockpile of heavy water was “well beneath” 130 metric tons.
“We urge Iran to complete without delay its plan to resolve this issue,” she said.
Under the agreement, Iran is permitted to continue producing heavy water at Arak as long as any amount in excess of 130 metric tons is transferred out of the country. Officials familiar with the deal say Iran has struggled to find buyers on the international market.
David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, estimates Iran is producing heavy water at a rate of around 25 metric tons a year.
“Thus, under current arrangements, Iran is likely to continue pushing up against this cap,” he said in a report published Tuesday.
Earlier this year, the Obama administration bought heavy water from Iran for nearly $10 million to help it meet the 130-metric-ton limit.
Iran claims the U.S. hasn’t upheld the spirit of the deal. It has failed, Tehran says, to do more to encourage European and other international banks to resume business with Iranian firms following the suspension of most economic and financial sanctions in January. Many U.S. sanctions remain in place.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has warned the new U.S. administration not to stray from the deal, saying his country has various “options” if it collapses. European foreign ministers issued a statement on Monday saying they want the deal upheld.
Mr. Amano, who is seeking another term as head of the IAEA when his current one ends late next year, declined to weigh in on concerns that Mr. Trump would end the deal, which he said allows much greater oversight of Iran’s nuclear activities.
“I am aware of the remarks made by the president-elect but as I said, repeatedly, we are focusing on facts and it is premature to say anything…about the future policy of the president-elect,” he said.