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UN atomic watchdog: Iran still in violation of nuclear deal

This Jan. 15, 2011 file photo, shows a part of Arak heavy water nuclear facilities, near the central city of Arak, 150 miles southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran. The U.N. atomic watchdog reported Friday that Iran remains in violation of limitations set by the 2015 nuclear deal with major powers and that its stockpile of low-enriched uranium are increasing. (Mehdi Marizad / AP)
By Kiyoko Metzler Associated Press

VIENNA – The U.N. atomic watchdog reported Friday that Iran remains in violation of limitations set by the 2015 nuclear deal with major powers and that its stockpile of low-enriched uranium are increasing.

In a confidential quarterly report distributed to member states and seen by The Associated Press, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium still exceeds the amount allowed by the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.

It also said Iran continues to enrich uranium up to 4.5%, above the 3.67% allowed.

The violations were announced by Iran, and confirmed by the IAEA last month, and are meant to put pressure on the signatories to the JCPOA to provide more economic incentives.

Enriched uranium at the 3.67% level is enough for peaceful pursuits but is far below weapons-grade levels of 90%. At the 4.5% level, it is enough to help power Iran’s Bushehr reactor, the country’s only nuclear power plant.

The nuclear deal is meant to keep Tehran from building atomic weapons in exchange for economic relief. It has been complicated by the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the deal last year and Washington’s increased sanctions, which have been taking a toll on the Iranian economy.

That has left the other signatories – Germany, Britain, France, Russia and China – struggling to come up with enough incentives to keep Iran in the deal.

So far, the major powers in the JCPOA have expressed concern about Tehran’s violations and urged the country to return to the limitations set in the agreement but haven’t taken further action.

Britain, France and Germany have set up a complex barter-type system dubbed INSTEX that aims to protect companies doing business with Iran from American sanctions. The first transactions through this system are being “processed,” but haven’t yet been completed, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said Friday.

Under the weight of those sanctions, the value of Iran’s currency has plummeted by about 60% in the last year. Inflation is up 37% and the cost of food and medicine has soared 40% to 60%, according to EU figures.

The Europeans hope that the possibility, however slight, of a high-level meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani might help keep Iran in the deal.

“If this new momentum is real, this can build on the work that we have been doing all these years and will continue to do in these days and months and weeks to preserve the JCPOA,” Mogherini said before the IAEA report. “The two things are not alternatives. The two things might be complementary.”

In Friday’s report, the IAEA said that Iran has continued to permit its inspectors to monitor its nuclear facilities and has also remained under the limit of 143.3 U.S. tons set on its stockpile of heavy water, with 138.34 U.S. tons stockpiled.

It said Iran’s stock of low-enriched uranium hit 532.64 pounds as of Aug. 19. The JCPOA cap is 447.1 pounds of enriched uranium.

The stockpile is made up of 477.3 pounds of uranium enriched up to 3.67%, and 55.34 pounds of uranium enriched up to 4.5%, the IAEA reported.

In its previous quarterly report, it noted that Iran had installed “up to 33” more advanced IR-6 centrifuges, used to enrich uranium and that 10 had been tested.

Under terms of the nuclear deal, Iran is allowed to test no more than 30 of the IR-6s once the deal has been in place for 8 1/2 years. The deal is murky about limits before that point, which will arrive in 2023.

In the current report it repeated that Iran had installed “up to 33” of the IR-6 centrifuges, but said 11 have now been tested, and that “technical discussions in relation to the IR-6 centrifuges are ongoing.”