Iran has disputed reports that it enriched uranium to near weapons-grade purity, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesperson for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told the state-linked Fars news website that IAEA inspectors had found particles with a purity of higher than 60 percent in Tehran. He asserted that the discovery is normal and does not indicate that enrichment has gone beyond 60 percent. Additionally, Kamalvandi claimed that the finding has been leaked to the Western media as part of a supposed smear campaign against Iran.
The IAEA appeared to respond to a Feb. 19 report by Bloomberg which said that atomic monitors in Iran last week detected uranium enriched to levels nearly high enough for a nuclear weapon. According to the report, the IAEA detected that Iran has accumulated uranium enriched to 84 percent purity, the highest level that inspectors have found in the country to date. Uranium enriched at 90 percent is considered weapons-grade.
Bloomberg reported that inspectors were trying to determine if Iran intentionally produced the enriched uranium or if the concentration was the unintended result of accumulation within the network of pipes connecting the hundreds of fast-spinning centrifuges used to separate isotopes.
Iran began enriching uranium to up to 60 percent purity in April 2021. In November, it began enriching to 60 percent at a second facility in Fordow. Last year, the head of Israeli military intelligence, Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, warned that Iran is moving closer to reaching 90 percent-enriched uranium, which he stressed posed “the greatest test of the international community.”
Washington has been trying to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, for months. However, talks have broken down between the two nations, in part due to what the Biden administration says are Iran’s “unrealistic” demands. Additionally, tensions between Washington and Tehran have been further exacerbated after reports emerged that Iran is supplying drones to Russia amid its invasion of Ukraine.
Over the weekend, European Union officials again called on Iran to cooperate with the IAEA and restore its complete monitoring access. The EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell Fontelles wrote on Twitter on Sunday that he had spoken with Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, and had “underlined again the EU’s position on Iran’s behaviour: stop human rights violations, stop support to Russia’s war of aggression, and stop unjustified detention of EU citizens.” He continued, “Iran urgently needs to cooperate with IAEA.”