Despite the Obama administration's claim that Iran has ceased its nuclear program, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have discovered that the Middle Eastern nation has in fact increased its nuclear stockpile by 20 percent over the past 18 months.
In a report released on Friday, the agency's inspectors stated that they have found no evidence pertaining to Iran's efforts to produce a nuclear weapon. They also said that the Iranian government has halted its work in building facilities related to bomb-making activities.
The increase in Iran's nuclear stockpile, however, has caused Western officials and experts to question its purpose — especially when it coincides with ongoing talks for a nuclear deal.
One theory suggests that Iran could have encountered technical issues that prevented it from converting its enriched uranium supplies into useable fuel rods for nuclear reactors. This would have helped make the material unusable for nuclear weapons.
Another theory is that Iran could have been increasing its stockpile in order to give it an edge in case the current negotiations fail.
The buildup of Iran's nuclear stockpile poses a serious concern for the United States — both politically and diplomatically.
The Obama administration only has until the end of June to complete an agreement with Iran. They will then have to convince members of Congress and U.S. allies that Iran will be able to reduce its stockpile by 96 percent in a few months once the deal is signed — even though the country has been shown to continue its production of new material and its inability to significantly reduce its current stockpile.
Richard M. Nephew, an expert on Iran from Columbia University, pointed out that the situation is less than ideal from America's point of view.
Nephew, who has worked at the White House and State Department, said the increase in the size of the stockpile was not a deal breaker, because Iran is capable of finding a solution — especially if given relief from sanctions.
If the current agreement is completed, Iran will be allowed to maintain a nuclear stockpile worth around 660 pounds, which is less than what would be needed to produce one nuclear weapon.
The deal will require Iran to dispose of more than nine tons of its stockpile in only a few months. An option would be to ship the material out of the country — but Iran, through deputy negotiator Abbas Araqchi, ruled out this possibility in March.
The U.S. State Department issued a statement regarding the preliminary agreement, set during a marathon session in Switzerland. It did not mention details on how the reduction would be carried out.
While the Obama administration is yet to release a statement on the IAEA report, several anonymous officials believe the Iranians already understand that once the agreement is completed, they would have to reduce their fuel and maintain a small stockpile for 15 years.
Photo: IAEA Imagebank | Flickr