An Iranian security official in protective clothing walks through part of the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the Iranian city of Isfahan Image Credit: AP

The latest Iran nuclear activities are dangerously worrying and must not be ignored by the United States, which seems intent on fast-tracking its talks with Tehran.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Rafael Grossi informed member states on February 10 that the organisation’s inspectors had confirmed that Iran has started producing uranium metal at a nuclear facility in Isfahan, in a fresh breach of the 2015 nuclear agreement.

Although the amount of Iranian uranium metal is small and not enriched, it could be used to form the core of a nuclear weapon. The agreement put a 15-year ban on “producing or acquiring plutonium or uranium metals or their alloys.”

Britain, France and Germany on Friday condemned the latest Iranian move. “We reiterate that Iran has no credible civilian justification for these activities, which are a key step in the development of a nuclear weapon,” they said.

Iran’s latest violation of the international agreement, as confirmed by the United Nations atomic watchdog, should serve as a warning to the Biden administration to look at Tehran’s actual actions on the ground and not be swayed by the sugar-coated statements of Iranian officials.

Former President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear agreement in May 2018 and applied a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran with sanctions.

Trump, as well as many of America’s allies in the region, objected to the fact that the 2015 deal didn’t address Iran’s ballistic missiles programme and its destabilising regional actions including its support, financing and arming proxy militias.

President Biden made a US return to the deal one of his foreign policy priorities. But he said that Washington would re-enter the deal only when Iran returns to compliance.

He also promised that he would use the expected talks as platform to negotiate a broader and longer-lasting deal with Iran that would include restriction on Iran’s enrichment efforts, restrictions on its missile programme and an end to its aggressive policies that threaten regional allies.

However, there are worrying signs that the new administration may be rushing the talks with Iran. Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken last week formed a team that would negotiate with Iran while Tehran continues its non- compliance and engages in dangerous escalation regionally by providing drones and expertise to Yemen’s Al Houthis, which are being used extensively in the recent attacks on Saudi Arabia’s civilian areas across the border including the weekend’s terror attack on Abha Airport.

Iran has always claimed that its programme is a peaceful one and it has no intention to develop nuclear arms. But the latest discovery by the IAEA inspectors proves otherwise.

The US administration, in collaboration with its Gulf allies, needs to seize on that to impose a broader deal that includes all three issues: Iran’s nuclear activities, the ballistic missile programme and its regional policies.