JEDDAH: Iran could have a nuclear weapon in “a matter of weeks” unless it curbs its enrichment of fissile uranium, the US warned on Monday.
And the head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog said it was “becoming increasingly difficult” to extend a temporary arrangement for inspections of Iran’s nuclear facilities, as Tehran and world powers try to salvage the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
The JCPOA restricted Iran’s nuclear program in return for relief from international sanctions. It has been dead in the water since 2018, when the US withdrew. President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions, and Tehran began refusing to comply with the agreement’s limits on its uranium enrichment.
“It remains unclear whether Iran is willing and prepared to do what it needs to do come back into compliance,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday. “Meanwhile, its program is galloping forward. The longer this goes on, the more the breakout time gets down. It’s now down, by public reports, to a few months at best. And if this continues, it will get down to a matter of weeks.”
The US and Iran began indirect talks in Vienna in April to see if both could resume compliance with the JCPOA.
The fifth round of talks ended on June 2 and diplomats have said a sixth may begin on Thursday. That would leave only eight days to rescue the deal before Iran’s presidential election on June 18, which is expected to bring in new a hard-line leader.
US allies in the Gulf are also concerned that the talks are only about Iran’s nuclear program, and fail to address Tehran’s ballistic missile development and its regional meddling through proxy militias in Iraq, Yemen and elsewhere.
In February, Tehran suspended some inspections of its nuclear sites by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The agency struck a temporary three-month deal allowing it to continue with a reduced level of access. In late May the arrangement was extended until June 24, but time was now “very short,” IAEA chief Rafael Grossi said on Monday.
“I can see this space narrowing down,” he said. “I hope we are not going to see our ... inspection capacities curtailed any more. We cannot limit and continue to curtail the ability of the inspectors to inspect and at the same time pretend that there is trust.
“This is where everything you do with any country is interconnected. For me the road to trust goes through information, clarification, inspections and full transparency.
“We have a country that has a very developed and ambitious nuclear program which is enriching at very high levels ... very close to weapons grade.”