The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the global watchdog that inspects Iran’s nuclear program, warned the US against military attacks on Iran’s nuclear sites. The comments came after a report from The New York Times that said President Trump reviewed options to strike Iran’s main enrichment facility.
“I would hope there would never be a time for a military attack,” Rafael Grossi, the IAEA director, told NBC News on Wednesday. “A military attack would be detrimental to any inspection activity, let alone the safety of my inspectors, which is the first thing I have to think about if somebody is planning to do something like that.”
President Trump reportedly reviewed options for a strike after the IAEA released a report last week that said Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile increased. Under the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran’s uranium stockpile is not to exceed 202.8kg. The IAEA’s report said the stockpile is now at 2,442.9 kg or 12 times the limit allowed under the deal.
The US likes to say Iran’s increased stockpile is a violation of the deal, but the US pulled out of that deal when the Trump administration reimposed sanctions in 2018. Iran has been purposely not complying with certain limitations in the deal to gain leverage for future talks over sanctions relief.
Any uranium in Iran’s stockpile is still only being enriched at 4.5 percent, slightly higher than the 3.67 percent permitted under the deal, but far below the 20 percent Iran reached when negotiating the agreement with the Obama administration, and nowhere close to the amount needed for weapons-grade material, which is over 90 percent.
This week, the IAEA said Iran is now operating new centrifuges at its Natanz facility that are not allowed under the deal. But importantly, the IAEA said the centrifuges will not increase uranium output. The centrifuges are another easily reversible violation Iran has been open about.
With Joe Biden expected to be inaugurated on January 20th, Iran is hoping the new administration will return to the nuclear deal and lift sanctions. “If Mr. Biden is willing to fulfill US commitments, we too can immediately return to our full commitments in the accord,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said this week.