United Nations nuclear watchdog inspectors have found new evidence of undeclared nuclear activity in Iran that might indicate that Tehran was developing nuclear weapons, the Wall Street Journal reported Friday, citing three diplomatic sources familiar with the matter.
Iran maintains that it has never sought nuclear weapons and never would. It says its nuclear work only has civilian aims.
According to the sources, who have been briefed on the new findings, samples collected from two different sites by International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors a few months ago contained traces of radioactive materials.
The diplomats said that the exact nature of traces remained unknown to them.
“The discovery of radioactive material at these sites would indicate that Iran does indeed have undeclared nuclear material, despite its denials,” said David Albright, a former weapons inspector and president of the Institute for Science and International Security in Washington. “It would indicate that Iran did have a nuclear weapons program in the past, likely leading the IAEA to call for access to more sites and more explanations from Iran.”
In 2020, Iran refused for seven months to grant UN inspectors access to the sites where the samples had been detected. This led to a stand-off between the nuclear agency and the Islamic Republic.
Iran has yet to comment on the new findings.
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A IAEA report published this week said that Iran has deepened a key breach of its 2015 nuclear deal, enriching uranium with a larger number of advanced centrifuge machines in an underground plant.
"Iran has completed the installation of one of these three cascades, containing 174 IR-2m centrifuges, and, on 30 January 2021, Iran began feeding the cascade with UF6," the report said.
Also on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken discussed Iran and other issues in a virtual meeting with his British, French and German counterparts as the group weighs how to revive the Iran nuclear deal.
The high-level conversation is the latest step by President Joe Biden’s new administration to explore how to restore the 2015 nuclear deal that Iran signed with world powers but was abandoned in 2018 by Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.
The nuclear deal limited Iran’s uranium enrichment activity to make it harder for Tehran to develop nuclear arms in return for the easing of U.S. and other sanctions.
In abandoning the deal approved by former President Barack Obama, Trump restored the U.S. sanctions it had removed and then piled on more.
In January 2020, Iran said it would no longer abide by any of the limits of its unraveling 2015 nuclear deal, abandoning the accord's key provisions that block Tehran from having enough material to build an atomic weapon.