European powers seek to censure Iran at UN nuclear meeting

European powers seek to censure Iran at UN nuclear meeting
Cooperation between Iran and the IAEA has deteriorated, with the UN nuclear watchdog struggling for assurances that Iran's nuclear programme is peaceful
4 min read
Head of the UN's nuclear watchdog Rafael Grossi visited Iran in May to improve communications [GETTY]

Britain, France and Germany will seek to censure Iran over its lack of cooperation with the UN nuclear watchdog at its board meeting starting Monday despite US opposition, diplomats told AFP.

Western powers fear Iran is seeking to develop a nuclear weapon -- a claim the Islamic Republic has always denied.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says Iran is the only non-nuclear weapon state to enrich uranium to the high level of 60 percent, while it keeps accumulating large uranium stockpiles.

Uranium enriched to 60 percent is close to the levels of 90 percent needed for atomic weapons and well above the 3.67 percent used for nuclear power stations.

At the opening of the meeting on Monday, IAEA head Rafael Grossi reiterated his concerns, saying: "It's unacceptable to talk about nuclear weapons, as some people do in Iran."

Referring to the limited oversight the agency now has on Tehran's nuclear programme, Grossi warned that the current "knowledge gap... is making it very difficult to go back to diplomacy".

Diplomats told AFP that the move to submit a motion against Iran at the board was driven by an "urgency to react to the gravity of the situation".

A censure motion is a symbolic move to raise diplomatic pressure on Iran. The last such resolution, passed by the IAEA board in November 2022, prompted Iran to retaliate by announcing stepped-up uranium enrichment activities.

At the last board meeting in March, European powers shelved their plans to confront Iran due to a lack of support from Washington.

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The United States denies it is hampering European efforts to hold Tehran accountable but fears a censure could aggravate Middle East tensions ahead of US presidential elections in November, diplomats say.

'Essential and urgent'

Cooperation between Iran and the IAEA has severely deteriorated in recent years, with the UN nuclear watchdog struggling for assurances that Iran's nuclear programme is peaceful.

Diplomats say maintaining the current policy of inaction amid Iran's escalation is no longer tenable and the US position could change ahead of the IEAE vote scheduled for later this week.

In May, Grossi visited Iran in a bid to improve cooperation, calling for "concrete results... soon".

In the meantime, the death of Iran's president Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash last month has put negotiations on hold, with diplomats suggesting Tehran was using the accident as an excuse to stall.

Grossi on Monday however rejected that criticism, saying the pause was "not part of any delaying tactic" by Iran.

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He added he was ready to "sit down with the new authorities" after the presidential election on June 28.

The draft resolution obtained by AFP covers all the points of contention.

The confidential draft says it is "essential and urgent" that Tehran provides "technically credible explanations" for the presence of uranium particles found at two undeclared locations in Iran.

Furthermore, Iran has to "reverse its withdrawal of the designations of several experienced Agency inspectors", and "without delay" reconnect the cameras used to monitor nuclear activities.

The draft also notes the "concerns" surrounding "recent public statements made in Iran... regarding its technical capabilities to produce nuclear weapons and possible changes to Iran's nuclear doctrine".

'Serious and effective response'

Iran has gradually broken away from its commitments under the nuclear deal it struck with world powers in 2015.

The landmark deal provided Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its atomic programme.

But it fell apart after the unilateral withdrawal of the United States under then-president Donald Trump in 2018.

Efforts to revive the deal have so far failed.

"A showdown at the board reflects a wider impasse over Iran, with little diplomatic activity but increasing concern over a programme that continues to expand in scale under limited international oversight," Naysan Rafati, an Iran analyst at the Crisis Group, told AFP.

Ali Shamkhani, a political adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei warned Saturday on X that if "some misguided European countries... adopt a hostile stance towards Iran... at the board, they will face a serious and effective response from our country".

Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia's ambassador to the international organisations in Vienna, wrote on X on Sunday that tabling an "anti-Iranian resolution" could risk "seriously deteriorating the situation".