Spotlight On Iran's Stunning Nuclear Program

Mike Leslie
May 16, 2024

International Atomic Energy Authority chief Rafael Grossi said Tuesday he was apprehensive about recent comments from Iranian officials threatening to develop nuclear weapons.

Inputs that matter: Speaking with the UK's Guardian newspaper, Grossi said, "Loose talk about nuclear weapons is concerning for me."

  • "We are moving closer to a situation with a huge question mark about what they are doing and why they are doing it."
  • He added that the status of the agreement with Iran on inspecting its civil nuclear program is "in a very tight spot."

The opportunity: Grossi explained that is a point where he would "draw the line" with Iran, saying, "It would be a very critical juncture because the international community would have to grapple with the reality that we don't know what Iran may or may not have and the countries will draw their conclusions."

  • Chairman of the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations and former foreign minister (1997-2005) Kamal Kharrazi stated in Dec. 2022 that Iran "can make" a nuclear weapon but "does not intend to."
  • Tehran has not ruled out the possibility of increasing the level of enrichment to 90%, the purity necessary to build atomic weapons.
  • Ali Akbar Salehi, a two-time former nuclear chief (2009-10, 2013-21) and ex-chief diplomat (2011-13), said in a TV interview on Feb. 11 that Iran has "crossed all the thresholds of nuclear science and technology."

Zoom in: On May 8, Iran's Kamal Kharrazi, an adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was reported as saying by Iran's Student News Network, "We have no decision to build a nuclear bomb, but should Iran's existence be threatened, there will be no choice but to change our military doctrine."

  • Tehran has always insisted its nuclear program was strictly for peaceful purposes, a claim Israel and much of the Western world dismiss.
  • The Guardian also reported that people close to Khamenei said he called for the UN weapons inspectors to be thrown out of Iran.

Between the lines:  Last week, Grossi made his first trip to Iran since March 2023. He met Iran's nuclear chief, Mohammad Eslami, and other senior officials. He said he sensed an opportunity to resolve some points of contention, including improving the IAEA's ability to monitor the republic's nuclear activities.

  • Grossi concluded that Washington and Tehran also kept a "bilateral channel" open.
  • The FT revealed that senior US and Iranian officials held secret indirect talks in Oman in January as both sides sought to prevent the Israel-Hamas war from exploding into a full-blown regional conflict.

Follow the money: Operatives working for the Chinese and Iranian governments prepared fake, AI-generated content as part of a campaign to influence US voters in the closing weeks of the 2020 election campaign, current and former US officials briefed on the intelligence told CNN.

  • One of the sources said the National Security Agency collected intelligence that gave US officials insights into China and Iran's capabilities in producing deep fakes.
  • With deep fake audio and video much more accessible to produce and the presidential election just six months away, US officials have grown more concerned over how a foreign influence campaign might exploit artificial intelligence to mislead voters.

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