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US, European powers divided over confronting Iran at IAEA, diplomats say

May 24, 2024 at 1:18 pm

IAEA flag [IAEA Imagebank/Flickr]

The US and its three top European allies are divided over whether to confront Iran at the UN nuclear watchdog by seeking a resolution against it and thereby risk further escalation, Reuters reports diplomats saying.

It is 18 months since the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation Board of Governors last passed a resolution against Iran, ordering it to cooperate urgently with a years-long IAEA investigation into uranium particles found at three undeclared sites.

While the number of sites in question has been narrowed to two, Iran still has not explained the traces, and the number of other problems in Iran has risen including Tehran barring many of the IAEA’s top uranium-enrichment experts on the inspection team.

A quarterly Board of Governors meeting begins in ten days.

“It’s extremely difficult with Iran and the level of violations is unprecedented … There is no slowing down of its programme and there is no real goodwill by Iran to cooperate with the IAEA,” a senior European diplomat said.

“All our indicators are flashing red.”

Read: Death of Iran President has delayed talks with IAEA, Grossi says

Concern about Iran’s atomic activities has been high since then-US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal and issued “unprecedented” sanctions against the Islamic Republic. In response, Iran began enriching uranium to 60 per cent purity, close to the roughly 90 per cent that is weapons-grade, for three years. It has enough material enriched to that level, if refined further, for three nuclear bombs, according to an IAEA yardstick.

Western powers say there is no credible civilian energy purpose in enriching to that level, and the IAEA says no other country has done so without making a nuclear weapon. Iran says its objectives are entirely peaceful.

The United States, however, has not wanted to seek another resolution against Iran at recent IAEA board meetings. Before the last one, in March, the European powers – France, Britain and Germany, known as the “E3” – disagreed with Washington on whether to seek a resolution but then backed down.

Officials often cite the US presidential election as a reason for the Biden administration’s reluctance.

But the main argument US officials make is to avoid giving Iran a pretext to respond by escalating its nuclear activities.