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An Iranian technician works at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan in a file photo. Image Credit: AP

Washington: The United States and its Arab allies in the Gulf accused Iran on Wednesday of causing a nuclear crisis and destabilising the Middle East with ballistic missiles and drones.

The warning came in a joint statement issued after a meeting of the US and Gulf Cooperation Council working group on Iran, which was held in Saudi Arabia.

“All participants urged the new Iranian administration to seize the current diplomatic opportunity” stemming from the resumption of talks in Vienna aimed at salvaging the Iranian nuclear accord, and “prevent conflict and crisis,” the statement said.

These indirect talks between the US and Iran were suspended after Iran elected a new president in June and are now scheduled to resume late this month.

They are aimed at resurrecting the 2015 multinational accord aimed at preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The US under then president Donald Trump pulled out of the accord in 2018, and in response Iran has abandoned many of the commitments it made under that agreement to curb its nuclear program.

“Iran has taken steps for which it has no civilian need but that would be important to a nuclear weapons programme,” said the statement from representatives of the US, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait.

These countries also condemned what they called “a range of aggressive and dangerous Iranian policies including the proliferation and direct use of advanced ballistic missiles” and drones.

“Iran’s support to armed militias across the region and its ballistic missile programme pose a clear threat to regional security and stability,” the statement said.

Some Gulf countries such as Qatar and Oman are often seen as channels for the US to communicate with Iran.

Saudi Arabia has also recently undertaken a quiet but noticeable dialogue with its neighbour under the auspices of Iraq.

These Gulf countries “briefed” Washington on “their efforts to build effective diplomatic channels with Iran” in order to ease tensions, albeit with the support of American military dissuasion.

“The US and GCC member states stressed that these diplomatic efforts will not succeed if Iran continues to provoke a nuclear crisis,” the statement concluded.

UN: Iran further raising nuclear stockpile

Earlier in the day, the United Nations’ atomic watchdog said it believed that Iran had further increased its stockpile of highly enriched uranium in breach of a 2015 accord with world powers.

The International Atomic Energy Agency told member nations in its confidential quarterly report that Iran has an estimated stock of 17.7 kilos (39 pounds) of uranium enriched to up to 60% fissile purity, an increase of almost 8 kilos since August.

Such highly enriched uranium can be easily refined to make atomic weapons, which is why world powers have sought to contain Tehran’s nuclear programme.

The Vienna-based agency told members that it is still not able to verify Iran’s exact stockpile of enriched uranium due to the limitations that Tehran imposed on UN inspectors earlier this year.

The IAEA has been unable to access surveillance footage of Iranian nuclear sites or of online enrichment monitors and electronic seals since February. The agency’s chief, Rafael Mariano Grossi, told The Associated Press this month that the situation was like ”flying in a heavily clouded sky.’’

In a separate report to member states about its work in Iran, the agency said Grossi was concerned about inspectors “being subjected to excessively invasive physical searches by security officials at nuclear facilities in Iran.”

“He reiterates the call upon Iran to take immediate steps to remedy the situation, and to implement security procedures at nuclear facilities that are consistent with internationally accepted security practices and Iran’s legal obligations in relation to privileges and immunities of the agency and its inspectors,” the IAEA said, according to the confidential quarterly report seen by The Associated Press.

The agency said it ``categorically rejects’’ the idea its cameras at Iranian nuclear sites played a role in a sabotage attack on the Karaj facility near Tehran in June. Iran accuses Israel of being behind the incident.

A senior diplomat who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity said the searches of the inspectors carried out in Iran were very time-consuming and made some feel intimidated. The diplomat was not authorised to be named while speaking to the media.

Mohammadreza Ghayebi, caretaker envoy of the Iranian Mission to the United Nations in Vienna, called on other IAEA member states to “refrain from making hasty or politically motivated comments.’’

State-run Irna news agency quoted him as saying that Grossi was expected in Tehran for talks Monday “to discuss the status of cooperation between the two sides.’’

Senior diplomats from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia plan to meet with Iranian officials in Vienna on November 29 to discuss bringing Tehran back into compliance with the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The pact eased sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear program.

The United States pulled out of the accord under former President Donald Trump and reimposed sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to resume its uranium enrichment.