International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi said: “The JCPOA is not dead.” Image Credit: REUTERS

Vienna: Global atomic monitors reported Iran’s stockpile of highly-enriched uranium swelled to a record in the last three months, even as violent nationwide protests against the Islamic Republic’s hard-line rulers thrust the country into deep political crisis.

The International Atomic Energy Agency report shows the resilience of an Iranian nuclear programme that continues to grow, despite a wavering economy that’s helped to fuel internal dissent. It’s the eighth-consecutive quarter that Iranian engineers increased the country’s volume of nuclear fuel enriched to just below the grade needed for weapons.

Iran’s expansion of its nuclear programme - undertaken after the US broke a 2015 agreement and reimposed sanctions - is taking place amid reduced oversight by IAEA monitors, whose investigation into past activities continues to be stonewalled.

The IAEA “is seriously concerned that there has still been no progress in clarifying and resolving the outstanding safeguards issues,” read a restricted report seen by Bloomberg. The investigation has “to be resolved for the agency to be in a position to provide assurance that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful.”

Iran has demanded the agency end its probe into the source of uranium particles detected at several undeclared locations as part of any deal to roll back its nuclear activities and restore the landmark accord. The IAEA said it will send a team of investigators to Tehran at the end of November in the latest effort to conclude the probe.

The US and other world powers have offered sanctions relief if the Islamic Republic curtails nuclear-fuel production, but they insist it’s up to the IAEA to declare an end to the investigation.

Inspectors retain hope that the nuclear agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, can still be restored, IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said Wednesday at the COP27 climate talks in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

“The JCPOA is not dead,” Grossi said. “It is struggling. Negotiations are ongoing, albeit at a painfully slow pace.”

Thursday’s statement comes as Iran also faces mounting criticism for supplying Russia with military drones for use in its war on Ukraine.