October 28, 2020

Iran Is Building an Underground Nuclear Facility, UN Watchdog Says

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that Iran is building an underground nuclear facility, the agency’s head told the Associated Press. Satellite images released today show that Iran has begun construction (AP) at its Natanz nuclear facility, which was damaged in July by an explosion that Iran claimed was sabotage. IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi said that Iran is also stockpiling low-enriched uranium, though it does not appear to have enough to make a nuclear weapon.

The move comes amid heightened tensions (NYT) between Iran and the United States, including over Iran’s nuclear activities. The Donald J. Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement more than two years ago and has ratcheted up sanctions on the country. Since then, Iran has increased both its stockpile and purity of enriched uranium, though it allows access for IAEA inspectors.

“Iran is determined to develop a sophisticated nuclear apparatus and advanced centrifuges are the core of such a program. Iranian officials have repeatedly said the nuclear program is for civilian energy purposes only, but U.S. officials suspect the country is developing a military capability,” CFR’s Ray Takeyh writes.

“The United States should start by negotiating a de-escalatory agreement that contains Iran’s nuclear program and lowers regional tensions. But it should then work both to negotiate a follow-on to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and to tackle more fundamental regional disagreements,” Elisa Catalano Ewers, Ilan Goldenberg, and Kaleigh Thomas write for Foreign Affairs.