Photo illustration by John Lyman

World News


Iran Continues to Feed Nuclear Anxiety

In a confidential report released on Monday by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, Iran has significantly increased its stockpile of uranium enriched to near weapons-grade levels. This move is part of Tehran’s ongoing strategy to apply pressure on the international community.

According to the report, Iran now possesses at least 142.1 kilograms (313.2 pounds) of uranium enriched up to 60%, marking a 20.6-kilogram (45.4-pound) increase since the IAEA’s last report in February. Uranium enriched at 60% purity is just a short step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%. By IAEA standards, around 42 kilograms (92.5 pounds) of uranium enriched to 60% is sufficient to theoretically create one atomic weapon if further enriched to 90%.

As of May 11, Iran’s overall stockpile of enriched uranium stands at 6,201.3 kilograms (13,671.5 pounds), an increase of 675.8 kilograms (1,489.8 pounds) since the previous IAEA report. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. However, IAEA Chief Rafael Grossi has previously warned that Tehran has enough uranium enriched to near-weapons-grade levels to construct “several” nuclear bombs if it chooses to do so.

Under the original 2015 nuclear deal, Iran was allowed to enrich uranium only up to 3.67% purity, maintain a stockpile of about 300 kilograms, and use only basic IR-1 centrifuges. This agreement saw Tehran limiting uranium enrichment to levels necessary for nuclear power generation in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions, with UN inspectors tasked with monitoring the program.

This report raises significant concerns, as a nuclear Iran could dramatically alter the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East. Currently, Iran employs proxies such as the Houthi, Hezbollah, and Hamas to target regional adversaries. However, under a nuclear umbrella, Iran’s leverage would be vastly enhanced, granting it unprecedented power. Iran is aiming to have economic sanctions lifted in exchange for curbing its nuclear program. Despite the recent helicopter crash that killed Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the program remains under the firm control of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The UK, Germany, and France — the E3 nations — are advocating for an IAEA resolution to censure Iran at the forthcoming Board of Governors meeting in Vienna. This proposed censure stems from Iran’s failure to adequately explain nuclear activities at two suspected undeclared sites before 2003.

The IAEA report coincides with heightened tensions in the Middle East, exacerbated by the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict. Last month, Israel and Iran exchanged direct strikes for the first time. Since President Biden took office in 2021, Iran has attacked U.S. troops in the Middle East over 170 times, seeking to expel U.S. forces from the region. Iran exerts control over Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Yemen, and Gaza, and is now focusing on Jordan, Sudan, and the Sahel region in Africa.

For the Iranian populace, living under an oppressive regime that commits daily atrocities, the Biden administration’s perceived indifference is disheartening. The administration’s stance contrasts sharply with the U.S. Terrorism Report, which labels Iran as the “leading state sponsor of terrorism” and a gross human rights violator.

Following the death of Raisi, known as the “Butcher of Tehran” for his role in mass executions in the 1980s, the Biden administration extended condolences to the Iranian regime, sparking criticism of complacency.

Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Tim Scott and Rep. Mike Lawler, are urging the Biden administration to censure Iran at the next IAEA meeting due to its escalated nuclear activities and to ensure measures are taken to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. On Monday, Scott and Lawler introduced a resolution calling to “refer the issue to the UN Security Council and reaffirm that all measures will be taken to prevent the regime in Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”

“In the 18 months since the IAEA last held Iran accountable, the regime’s destabilizing behavior has skyrocketed. Its terrorist proxies have attacked our troops, brought global commerce to a halt, and ignited the brutal conflict in Gaza,” Scott said. “Last month, Iran stepped out from the shadows to attack Israel directly, and all the while, the regime has steadily increased its nuclear buildup.”

Preventing Iran from achieving nuclear capability is imperative. A nuclear-armed Iran would pose a catastrophic threat, fundamentally altering the balance of power in the Middle East and beyond. This development could trigger a regional arms race, undermine global non-proliferation efforts, and significantly threaten international security. The international community must take decisive action to prevent such a scenario.