Iran slams UN nuclear watchdog chief after centrifuge report

Published February 5, 2023
Iran’s nuclear chief Mohammad Eslami speaks during the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria. — AFP/File
Iran’s nuclear chief Mohammad Eslami speaks during the General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency at the agency’s headquarters in Vienna, Austria. — AFP/File

TEHRAN: Iran slammed UN nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi after the agency raised concerns over covert changes to equipment at its Fordo uranium enrichment plant, state media said on Saturday.

The criticism of Mr Grossi comes after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director-general said he plans to visit Tehran in February for talks on getting it to increase cooperation over its activities, amid stalled negotiations to revive a landmark deal over Iran’s nuclear programme.

The IAEA said in a confidential report on Wednesday that Iran had substantially modified an interconnection between two centrifuge clusters enriching uranium to up to 60 per cent at Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant (FFEP), without giving prior notice.

Iran said later an inspector had “inadvertently” reported the changes, and that Mr Grossi had issued the report despite the matter being resolved — a response that the United States and its allies criticised as “inadequate”.

US sanctions top officials of Iranian drone manufacturer

“We gave a letter to the agency that an inspector... made a mistake and gave an incorrect report,” Mohamad Eslami, the head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.

“But yet again the director-general of the agency released this issue to the media,” he said, labelling it “unprofessional and unacceptable” behaviour.

The IAEA had said during an unannounced Fordow inspection on January 21 it found “two IR-6 centrifuge cascades... were interconnected in a way that was substantially different from the mode of operation declared by Iran to the agency”.

Since late last year, the two cascades had been used to produce uranium enriched to up to 60pc, the report to member states added.

In the report, Mr Grossi expressed concern that Iran had “implemented a substantial change in the design information of FFEP in relation to the production of high enriched uranium without informing the agency in advance”.

In a statement on Friday, the United States, Britain, France and Germany said Iran’s response to the report was “inadequate”.

“Iranian claims that this action was carried out in error are inadequate,” they said.

“We judge Iran’s actions based on the impartial and objective reports of the IAEA, not Iran’s purported intent.” Mr Grossi told the European Parliament on Jan 24 that he plans to visit Tehran this month “for a much-needed political dialogue, or reestablishment thereof, with Iran”.

The IAEA chief noted the “big, big impasse” on the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

The deal with world powers collapsed after the United States withdrew from it in 2018 under former president Donald Trump. Negotiations that started in April 2021 to revive the agreement have since stalled.

US sanctions Iran’s drone maker

The US on Friday imposed sanctions on the board of directors of Iranian drone maker Paravar Pars, the US Treasury Department said, adding Iranian drones were being used by Russia to attack Ukraine’s critical infrastructure.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated eight senior executives of Paravar Pars, the department said in a statement.

“Iranian entities continue to produce UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) for Iran’s IRGC and military. More broadly, Iran is supplying UAVs for Russia’s combat operations to target critical infrastructure in Ukraine,” said Brian Nelson, the US Treasury’s top sanctions official.

As a result of Friday’s action, all property and interests in property of those individuals that are in the US or in the possession or control of US persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC, the Treasury Department said.

People that engage in transactions with the individuals designated on Friday may themselves be exposed to sanctions, the department added.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations in New York said on Tuesday: “Sanctions have no effect on Iran’s drone production capacity because its drones are all produced domestically. This is a strong indication that the drones shot down in Ukraine and using parts made by Western countries don’t belong to Iran.”

Published in Dawn, February 5th, 2023

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