Tensions around a breakdown in talks between Iran and the US over Tehran’s nuclear programme escalated on Monday when Israel’s defence minister, Benny Gantz, claimed that Iran would be able to produce enough enriched uranium to make three nuclear warheads within a few weeks.
Gantz also revealed a map detailing 10 facilities in Syria allegedly being used to arm Iran and its proxies, including Hezbollah. He said the facilities represented a threat to Israel’s security.
Iran for its part claimed it had manufactured a stealth drone that could hit major Israeli cities.
At the same time, the UN nuclear inspectorate chief, Rafael Grossi, said it would be extremely hard to restore the knowledge his organisation had lost about Iranian nuclear activities owing to his inspectors and cameras being barred from key sites by Iran.
He was speaking at the opening of a board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, at which he argued Iran was not cooperating with its inquiry into traces of nuclear particles found at three sites prior to 2013, a discovery that suggests Iran may at one point have run a covert nuclear programme.
Iran has demanded that the IAEA inquiry be formally halted as part of any agreement to revive the nuclear deal that was signed in 2015 and from which the US withdrew in 2018. Talks on the agreement have ground to a halt.
France, Germany and the UK issued a statement over the weekend saying they could offer no more concessions in the revival talks, adding: “Iran’s latest demand raises serious doubts as to Iran’s intentions and commitment to a successful outcome on the talks.”
But the three are unlikely to table a fresh censure resolution this week, after the previous IAEA board meeting in June voted to condemn Iran’s lack of cooperation.
Iran wants the inquiry formally dropped on the grounds that it is politically inspired by Israel to rake up old issues. But Grossi countered: “This is very straightforward. We found traces of uranium in places that were never declared, that were never supposed to have any nuclear activity, and we are asking questions. Explain to me why this is a political activity.”
It is thought the US would prefer to keep a lid on the Iran issue before the midterm elections in November, but one of the most informed thinktanks on the nuclear deal, the International Crisis Group, said in a new report that the situation could spiral out of control.
It said there was little space left for Iran to escalate without it being able to make weapons-grade fissile material in days. The US has been steadily increasing sanctions against Iran while Tehran has, according to the IAEA, increased its nuclear stockpile and use of advanced centrifuges.
The Crisis Group suggested the two sides should, in an effort to buy time, discuss the possibility of single-measure commitments, such as a deal on the humanitarian release of dual-national detainees, while respecting each other’s red lines to avert nuclear and regional escalation.
The Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, is due to travel to New York next week for the UN general assembly, if the US grants him a visa.