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IAEA reports Iran's uranium almost triples

Iran violated its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers by nearly tripling its stockpile of enriched uranium since November, IAEA reported.

VIENNA (AN) — Iran violated its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers by nearly tripling its stockpile of enriched uranium since November, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency said in a confidential report to member nations on Tuesday.

The International Atomic Energy Agency's report to member nations, also seen and obtained by several major news organizations, said the Vienna-based U.N. agency verified that Iran's total stockpile of low-enriched uranium came to 1,020.9 kilograms as of February 19, up from 372.3 kilograms as of November 3.

That amount violates the limit contained in the nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, that Iran signed with the U.N. Security Council's five veto-wielding, permanent member nations — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany and the European Union.

The JCPOA capped Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile at 300 kilograms of uranium hexafluoride, or 202.8 kilograms of uranium, according to IAEA.

Under the deal, Iran has been limited to enriching uranium to 3.67%, enough to fuel a commercial nuclear power plant. Weapons grade uranium must be enriched to around 90%. Iran previously enriched uranium to 20%, which cuts in half the time it takes to get to 90%.

Low-enriched uranium is normally used in nuclear plants, but the increased amount puts Iran closer to having the weapons-grade material it would need to produce a nuclear weapon, which it denies seeking, and raises more questions about whether Iran may be hiding some of its nuclear activity.

A second report from IAEA seen and obtained by The Associated Press, Washington Post and other news organizations said the U.N. nuclear agency detected three locations in Iran where undeclared nuclear material or nuclear-related activities may be found.

Pressuring for better terms

Iran announced in January it will no longer comply with most of the nonproliferation limits under the nuclear deal, angrily reacting to a U.S. airstrike that killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad.

The government’s announcement via state television confirmed it would abandon nearly all the restrictions it agreed to impose on its nuclear ambitions in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

But Tehran emphasized it would remain open to U.N.-led monitoring and negotiations with European signatories to the deal. European powers urged Iran to stop taking steps away from compliance with the treaty, which promised Iran economic incentives in return for the curbs on its nuclear program.

Iran has increasingly violated the deal's limits, pressuring for better terms, since U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally reneged on the deal by pulling the United States out of it in 2018. Tehran hopes its European partners will provide some economic relief from Washington's reimposed sanctions.

IAEA said it asked for but was denied access to two of three sites with suspected undeclared material or activity that are thought to have existed since the 2000s.

The Washington-based Arms Control Association has said the extent to which Iran's modest increase in its enrichment level poses a proliferation risk depends on how many centrifuges are used for higher-level enrichment and how much material is stockpiled.

"A large stockpile of low-enriched uranium, once amassed, would shorten the time needed to enrich up to weapons-grade. The quantity that Iran has produced to date is not considered a near-term proliferation risk," the association said in a statement in late January.

"Though provocative," it said, "this breach is easily reversible and did not substantially shorten the one-year window of time that it would take for Iran to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon."