“Iran does not have the atomic bomb, but it enriches uranium to very high levels”

“Iran does not have the atomic bomb, but it enriches uranium to very high levels”
“Iran does not have the atomic bomb, but it enriches uranium to very high levels”

“Iran does not have the atomic bomb,” says the director general of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, Argentine diplomat Rafael Grossi. A key statement in the midst of the worsening crisis between the Persian country and Israel. Grossi spoke with Clarín from Vienna on the day of the Israeli replica in Iran in Isfahan where that country has part of its nuclear structure.

-What view do you have of that last bombing?

-The information is not very clear. But what we have received here at the agency and what we deduce is that this is a response to the attacks that occurred a few days ago by Iran towards Israeli territory and this same, as a consequence of an attack that the Diplomatic Headquarters suffered. of the Iranian Consulate in Damascus, in Syria, on which occasion a series of important Iranian military and intelligence officials were killed.

-Did this affect the Iranian nuclear facilities or not?

-This was precisely a great concern that we had. We were in contact with our teams there in Iran, and in the end, it seemed to have no effect. In Isfahan, Iran has workshops for manufacturing ultra centrifuges, which are the machines used to enrich uranium and are therefore very strategic. There is also a nuclear fuel manufacturing and uranium ore conversion facility there and they also have a small research reactor. The attack occurred near an airport, just a few kilometers from the ultracentrifuges. But it was clearly not the intended target. Later, the other facilities were not affected either.

– Can your inspectors examine what was affected there?

– Exactly, yes. The ability of the agency’s inspectors is to visit or inspect nuclear sites linked to the nuclear program. As far as nuclear facilities are concerned, yes, absolutely. We have access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, almost on a daily basis.

– Under the current circumstances, are inspectors working or for security reasons, are they not on the sites?

– Yes, very good point. Just over the weekend, as a result of the announced possible attacks, the Iranian government informed us that they were going to close all nuclear facilities to take defensive or protective measures. In that context, they invited us not to approach them. So I removed the inspectors on Sunday and Monday. But on Tuesday we returned to the facilities

– After the fall of the nuclear pact, has Iran made progress in uranium enrichment?

– Yes absolutely. One of the most complex and perhaps controversial points that exist in relation to Iran is that it is enriching uranium to 60%. This has a very sensitive political dimension because the degree of enrichment needed to make a nuclear weapon is 90%. Between 60 and 90 is one step. It is very little in the way of enrichment. So this, since they began to enrich uranium to 60%, there is no country that enriches to that level that does not have nuclear weapons…

-Is the objective a nuclear weapon?

– Maybe you could say that as an analyst. But I never as general director. I don’t see nuclear weapons at the moment. But clearly they are manufacturing nuclear material that could be used for that, which does not have a very clear civil function, why they are enriching at that very high level.

– Do you rule out that Iran possesses the nuclear bomb today?

– We do not have any information that indicates this. But just as I say one thing, I say the other. On the one hand I would say, today Iran does not have nuclear weapons. At the same time, it is embarked on a series of activities, which could have a military derivation and they are not giving us the cooperation that they should be giving. That is why there is great international tension around Iran’s nuclear program.

– Because even though they don’t have it, they are accumulating. They already have enough material to make several nuclear weapons. But it is one thing to have the material, that is, enriched uranium, which is what will generate the uncontrolled nuclear reaction that would lead to an atomic explosion. Besides that, there are a number of things you need for a nuclear weapon. So, we don’t see all that. But we do see certain activities that could – I use the potential – that could be conducive. That’s why there is a kind of big international alert about this. The organization’s job is to provide credible guarantees that this is not happening.

– Do you believe that inspections should be expanded? That Iran should access another status?

– Yes effectively. You were precisely referring to the famous previous agreement that existed until 2018, a comprehensive pact, which established a series of quite important limitations on the Iranian nuclear program, and which also granted the Agency much broader inspection capabilities. When the US abandoned the agreement in 2018 – it was not a treaty – Iran also abandoned it. Then we entered a kind of limbo, where the agreement was unraveling… No one has declared that it no longer exists, but no one complies with it. So, and with that situation, what we at the agency lost is that visibility that we had.

-What is happening in Ukraine with the Zaporizhia plant?

– There the Agency is very involved and I am personally, if we go to the case of Ukraine where the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant is under Russian control. A few days ago, I was very busy with that topic. There was an attack directly on the plant, which was also quite calculated with a very reduced explosive charge, which could never seriously affect the physical integrity of the plant. But they are ways of expressing one’s military capacity. And the most serious thing for me, in this case, is that we are advancing in a world where nuclear facilities become legitimate targets, let’s say.

-The nuclear security of the planet is put at risk

– Exactly, exactly. That is why I was at the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday of this week. The US called an extraordinary session and they asked me to report on this situation. We had a very important session there. Ukraine was also there, because these are precisely events that can put international peace and security at risk in a broad sense, beyond the specific conflict between those two countries or in this case between Israel and Iran.

– That is a very interesting point of view. But as he said, I should refrain from speculating about the motives. What I do believe is that, and it is very clear, that we must move towards some type of understanding, of “understanding” as we would say in English, whether the previous agreement has been abandoned or does not exist. We have to move towards some other type of agreement, return to that agreement or modify it. What is clear is that at this level, at the pace that the Iranian nuclear program is going, with the limited means of inspection that I have at this moment, there will come a point where I will have to say: “I can no longer guarantee what What is happening in this country as a whole. “I can give you a partial view of what is happening, but I cannot guarantee that all activities are for peaceful purposes.”

-You need more power from whom? From the Agency, from the countries it has to inspect?

– Not from the Agency. Obviously the first one that has to agree is Iran. Let’s not forget that here we are not in Iraq, after the war, which was a devastated and occupied country. We are working with an independent country, which is a member of the IAEA. With a country that is part of the nuclear weapons non-proliferation treaty, which works with the IAEA, although not in a completely satisfactory manner. So we are not in a situation where the international inspectorate can do whatever it wants. Here what we have to have is an agreement, an understanding. That is precisely why, in a few more days, I must return to Tehran to have a dialogue again. To relaunch a high-level political dialogue to try to put things back on track.

The Argentine in charge of supervising nuclear safety in the world

Born in the Almagro neighborhood 63 years ago, Rafael Grossi was part of the first class of diplomats received at the National Foreign Service Institute. He was ambassador to Austria and Permanent Representative to International Organizations, based in Vienna. He began his career as a disciple of the late ambassador and head of the Foreign Ministry’s Nuclear Affairs Directorate, Adolfo Saracho.

His arrival to the general direction of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was a personal triumph, but also a victory for the country during the Cambiemos administration, and which now accompanies that of Alberto Fernández as part of what should be the policy of State in all areas of Argentina, and it is not.

His appointment as head of the highest body that ensures nuclear security, in 2019, was a race full of obstacles, which had to be negotiated in the geopolitical balance and have the endorsement of the big five of the Security Council: United States, China, Russia, France and United Kingdom.

-The Iranian vice president called you a couple of days ago, what was the reason?

– To see if I can go, if I want to go.

– So it would be confirmed that Iran does not have a diplomatic interest in increasing its conflict with its neighbor?

– I hope no. Let’s see the conversation, let’s see…

– Are nuclear facilities very deep? Can they be attacked conventionally or not?

– The fact is that there are two nuclear sites in Iran, one called Fordow and another called Natanz, which are places where uranium is enriched. In the case of Fordow, Iran has made this entire installation in tunnels in a mountain. In the case of Natanz, it was previously on the surface. But after, precisely a kind of sabotage, the origin of which was not very clear in the year 2020, where there were a series of explosions, they also began to dig tunnels, and put all the enrichment capacity and centrifugal cascades underground.

– So with a conventional bomb that cannot be destroyed. An anti-bunker bomb or a very special bomb is needed, because apparently they are anti-atomic facilities, right?

– Those are very protected facilities, right? Obviously, Iran takes care of the enrichment projects and protects them a lot. That’s why he puts them in the bowels of a mountain or in tunnels. That is very difficult, very difficult to attack. Unless there is a massive attack or that would only be imaginable in the context of an open and total war. With a 200km missile you could not penetrate the rock and reach the facilities and break them. It is impossible

-Does Israel have a nuclear arsenal?

– They have neither affirmed it nor denied it. So I couldn’t say that. Israel has also not signed the nuclear weapons non-proliferation treaty. Therefore, as the IAEA I do not have the capacity to inspect there, except what they allow me to inspect. So I am not able to report if they have it or not. They have a policy called opacity, in which they neither affirm nor deny.

-With your experience as a diplomat especially, how do you imagine the next few days in this crisis?

– We must go to a de-escalation logic. First of all, I think it’s a bit of an intention, because as we pointed out at the beginning of the talk, these attacks have been relatively, obviously not agreed upon because attacks are never agreed upon, but there have been certain parameters that have been respected on both sides. the other. So that has happened. There is a dialogue, which I know is not a public dialogue but there is a dialogue.


Rafael Mariano Grossi is an Argentine diplomat. He serves as Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency since December 3, 2019. He is former ambassador of Argentina to Austria, concurrent with Slovenia, Slovakia and International Organizations based in Vienna. He was born on March 12, 1961, in Almagro, Buenos Aires, Argentina. He studied at the Geneva Graduate Institute (IHEID), Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina, Santo Tomás Moro Building.

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