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Iran Turns Off U.N. Surveillance Cameras at Nuclear Site

By Isabella Kwai New York Times

Iran has turned off two surveillance cameras used by the U.N. watchdog agency to monitor a nuclear site, state television reported Wednesday, the latest sign of rising tensions with world powers over the revival of a 2015 deal that limited Iranian nuclear activities in exchange for the easing of international economic sanctions.

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran removed two cameras surveying an “online enrichment monitor” installed by the United Nations’ International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor uranium enrichment, according to Iran’s Press TV. The report went on to say that more than 80% of the U.N. agency’s cameras would continue to operate as before under safeguard agreements.

Iran’s move comes after a snag in its negotiations with world powers over resurrecting the 2015 nuclear deal, which placed limits on the country’s enrichment of uranium. Russia is one of the signatories to the 2015 deal, and its war on Ukraine has further complicated the nuclear talks.

World powers are expected to censure Iran this week over advances in its nuclear program, further escalating tensions. The United States, Britain, Germany and France submitted a resolution to the IAEA’s board of governors at its quarterly meeting this week criticizing Iran for failing to fully address the nuclear agency’s questions over traces of uranium detected at locations that have not been declared nuclear sites.

The resolution is opposed by Russia and likely to anger Tehran.

The nuclear watchdog said Wednesday that it was aware of the latest reports from Iran but declined to comment further. Iranian state media reported that the country’s nuclear agency had insisted it cooperated extensively with the IAEA, but that the international agency did not appreciate its goodwill.

Earlier this week, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said that Iran was close to having a “significant quantity” of enriched uranium, meaning enough to make a nuclear weapon.

“It’s a matter of just a few weeks,” Rafael Mariano Grossi, the U.N. agency’s director general, told its board of governors Monday.

But he went on to say that this did not mean that Iran had already created such a weapon and stressed the importance of IAEA inspectors having access to the country’s nuclear sites.

France, Germany and Britain said in a statement to the nuclear watchdog’s board Tuesday that they were “deeply concerned” about Iran’s nuclear advances, warning that the country was further reducing the breakout time – or the time it would take to make a quick leap toward manufacturing a nuclear weapon.

They said this was engendering distrust over Iran’s intentions.

“We strongly urge Iran to stop escalating its nuclear program,” their statement said, adding that a deal was “on the table” and that Iran should conclude it urgently, because the terms being offered would not be available indefinitely.

Those expressions of concern led up to Iran’s announcement Wednesday.

Iran has long maintained that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only. An assessment by U.S. intelligence agencies some years ago, however, concluded that the country once had a nuclear weapons program but halted it in 2003.

The Press TV report did not identify the facility where the surveillance cameras had been turned off but said the operation of these cameras was “deemed beyond the obligations” laid out in an Iranian agreement with the international watchdog on nuclear safeguards.

An “online enrichment monitor” at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility was installed in 2016, and the IAEA said at the time that it would help assure the world that Iran would fulfill its nuclear-related commitments.

Last year, Tehran said that it had begun enriching uranium to 60% at Natanz, after an Israeli attack on the plant while talks on the nuclear deal were stalled.

Iran is also enriching uranium at Fordow, a nuclear facility embedded inside a mountain at a based protected by Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard.

The U.N. watchdog said Iran had been withholding footage from its monitoring of its nuclear sites since 2021.

“The IAEA has been without crucial access to data on centrifuge and component manufacturing for a year and half now,” the statement by Germany, France and Britain said Tuesday. “This means that neither the agency, nor the international community, know how many centrifuges Iran has in its inventory, how many were built, and where they may be located.”

Grossi also told the agency’s board Monday that Iran has not provided credible explanations for the watchdog’s discovery of nuclear material at three undeclared locations. Nonetheless, he said, it was important for the agency to keep engaging with Iran.