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This week, the head of Tehran’s Atomic Energy Organization (IAEO) said that the country was set to begin constructing a new nuclear research reactor at the Isfahan nuclear facility. The Islamic Republic of Iran’s state-run media outlet Fars news agency quoted the IAEO official asserting that “Iran has a new plan to produce 10,000 megawatts of nuclear electricity and work is underway to choose suitable places to build nuclear facilities in the country, especially in the south.” These remarks come amidst the stalling of the joint U.S.-Iranian nuclear negotiations in Vienna. Tehran’s claim of expanding its nuclear research capacity could be a veiled threat to the U.S. and its other adversaries to grant the regime the concessions it has levied for in the negotiations.

IAEO head Mohammad Eslami emphasized Iran’s ambition to develop the new nuclear research reactor “completely indigenously.” Eslami also inferred that one of the primary roadblocks preventing Iran’s nuclear growth is the smaller capacity of the country’s domestic power plants. “In this direction, we will use international partnerships and we will not wait for anyone, because Iran has sufficient scientific, industrial and technological capacities,” said Eslami, according to The Jerusalem Post. “Fortunately, there are large companies in the country that can support the 10,000-megawatt nuclear power production program, and we also support any company and institution that participates in the program of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran.”

Iran’s Isfahan Nuclear Technology Center (INTC) is the country’s largest and most sophisticated nuclear research complex. Built in the mid-1980s with assistance from the People’s Republic of China (PRC), the INTC is largely suspected of being the epicenter of Tehran’s underground and secret nuclear weapons program. According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the complex comprises three Chinese-supplied research reactors and provides various functions for the regime’s nuclear development. The complex also operated a fuel production plant, a conversion facility and employs around 3,000 scientists. The Uranium Conversion Facility was constructed at the INTC in the early 1990’s and is responsible for converting yellowcake into three forms- uranium oxide, uranium hexafluoride and uranium metal.

Despite Iran’s development of its nuclear sector, the regime consistently refutes sentiment that its goals are anything but “peaceful” and “defensive.” On this topic, Eslami said, “In all this time and in none of the inspections carried out by the agency, not even in one case has it been announced that Iran has not announced its intention and plan in advance or has concealed it. These cases are documented, and therefore, the expression of these news and contents does not serve any purpose other than to waste time and tire the other party.”

However, many of Tehran’s actions regarding its nuclear facilities, uranium buildup and non-compliance with international standards reflect otherwise. In June, the international watchdog organization the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) passed a resolution denouncing Tehran for failing to explain the presence of uranium traces at three undeclared sites. Last week, Eslami responded to the IAEA’s request by asserting that Iran would not address these allegations. According to Reuters, Eslami added that the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) has “cleared Iran of so-called possible military dimensions allegations.”

After the IAEA overwhelmingly agreed to issue the resolution criticizing Iran, the regime told the global watchdog that it would remove more than two dozen surveillance cameras from its nuclear facilities. Under the pretense of the 2015 JCPOA, Tehran agreed to allow the IAEA to thoroughly examine and monitor its efforts in the nuclear realm in exchange for relief from economic sanctions. Once the U.S. withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018, sanctions were re-imposed on the regime.

For months, the White House remained committed to reinstating a version of the JCPOA. In fact, President Biden stated many times that this was a priority for the administration. However, the ongoing nuclear negotiations in Vienna have stalled for various reasons in recent months. One of the main roadblocks to continuing the indirect negotiations is the regime’s insistence that the U.S. remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC) from its list of foreign terror organizations. So far, Biden has refused to agree to this concession. Over the last few months alone, the IRGC and its affiliates have carried out several attacks targeting U.S. military personnel and assets in Iraq and Syria. From October to May of this year, Iranian proxies have launched a total of 29 attacks, according to NBC news. It seems improbable that the IRGC would be taken off the terror list as it proceeds to launch frequent drone, rocket and missile barrages targeting U.S. assets in the region.

Iran’s self-reported plan to construct a new nuclear research facility is the country’s latest escalation in its nuclear saga. With a rapidly approaching nuclear breakout time, the regime’s intentions appear more malign than ever.

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