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IAEA head says the barring of several nuclear inspectors by Iran is a 'serious blow' to monitoring

In this picture released by the Iranian Defense Ministry on Thursday, May 25, 2023, Khorramshahr-4 missile is launched at an undisclosed location, Iran. (Iranian Defense Ministry via AP) In this picture released by the Iranian Defense Ministry on Thursday, May 25, 2023, Khorramshahr-4 missile is launched at an undisclosed location, Iran. (Iranian Defense Ministry via AP)
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VIENNA -

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said Wednesday that Iran's decision in September to bar several experienced UN inspectors from monitoring the country's nuclear program constituted "a very serious blow" to the agency's ability to do its job "to the best possible level."

IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi said that while the UN nuclear watchdog continued to perform its monitoring work, Iran had targeted inspectors "who have a lot of experience, particularly in enrichment and other capacities."

"It takes a long time to prepare inspectors who have the necessary amount of experience, skills and ability to perform their work," Grossi told reporters on the first day of a regular meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors in Vienna.

While refusing to get into specific numbers or names, Grossi said that the ban concerned one-third of the core group of the agency's most experienced inspectors designated for Iran.

"This is completely uncalled for, this is completely illogical," he said.

Grossi said that he hoped to "reverse" Iran's decision and that he is having "a conversation" about the issue with Mohammad Eslami, the head of Iran's civilian nuclear program,

The comments come after a confidential IAEA report last week said that Iran continues to bar several of the watchdog's inspectors from monitoring the country's nuclear program, and that Tehran has further increased its stockpile of near weapons-grade uranium.

The IAEA said that according to its assessment, as of Oct. 28, Iran has an estimated 128.3 kilograms (282.9 pounds) of uranium enriched up to 60% purity, which represents an increase of 6.7 kilograms since its September report.

Iran has long denied ever seeking nuclear weapons and continues to insist that its nuclear program is entirely for peaceful purposes, such as for use in medicine, agriculture, industry and science.

But the IAEA's director-general has warned Tehran has enough enriched uranium for "several" nuclear bombs if it chose to build them.

The 128.3 kilograms enriched up to 60% fissile purity are more than three times the approximately 42 kilograms of uranium enriched up to 60% that the IAEA defines as sufficient material to fuel one atomic weapon once refined further.

Uranium enriched at 60% purity is just a short, technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%.

In September, Iran informed Grossi of its decision to bar several inspectors from monitoring the country's nuclear program. Iran's Foreign Ministry linked the move to what it said was an attempt by the United States and three European countries to misuse the IAEA "for their own political purposes."

The U.S. and the three European countries had criticized Iran in September in a joint statement, calling on Tehran to step up cooperation with the agency.

In a second confidential report last week, the IAEA said that no progress has been made on its request that Iran explain the origin and current location of man-made uranium particles found at two locations that Tehran has failed to declare as potential nuclear sites.

The report also says that there is no progress thus far in getting more monitoring equipment, including cameras, reinstalled that had been removed by Iran in June 2022.

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