The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency said Tuesday that Iran's nuclear program is "growing in ambition and capacity" and his agency needs full access to verify all aspects of it.
International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi acknowledged that Tehran's current nuclear program is very different from its 2015 program, when the deal with the major powers was agreed. He said everyone, including Iran, recognizes that.
"They [the Iranians] say they are making strides and amazing advances and the program is moving ahead very, very fast. And not only ahead, but sideways as well," Grossi told reporters on the sidelines of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference at the United Nations.
"It is growing in ambition and capacity. That does not mean that we cannot verify it," Grossi added. "But clearly, we need the degree of access commensurate with the characteristics of that program."
He said the Iranians now have more facilities and new technologies. Grossi said he has also been informed that Tehran is preparing new centrifuge cascades, which are used in uranium enrichment.
"Our inspectors are mobilized, and they are going to be looking into this when this happens," he said. "Not all of them have been prepared, just part of them."
Last month, U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley said Tehran has enough highly enriched uranium on hand to make a bomb and could do so in a matter of weeks.
At the NPT review conference on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that Iran remains on the path of nuclear escalation.
"Although it publicly claims to favor return to mutual compliance with the JCPOA, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, since March, Iran has been either unwilling or unable to accept a deal to achieve precisely that goal," he said. "Getting back to the JCPOA remains the best outcome – for the United States, for Iran, for the world."
In 2015, Britain, China, France, the United States and Germany made a landmark agreement with Iran known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. Under the deal, Iran received sanctions relief in exchange for limits on its nuclear program. Tehran has repeatedly denied it is trying to make a nuclear bomb, saying it only seeks civilian uses for the technology.
Under the Trump administration, the United States pulled out of the JCPOA in 2018 and reimposed sanctions. In 2019, Tehran resumed advancing its nuclear program, enriching uranium beyond permitted thresholds, among other steps.
Several months of indirect talks between Washington and Tehran aimed at bringing the two parties back into the agreement have been fruitless. The last round ended in late June in the Qatari capital, with Iran making new demands to a deal that has been sitting on the table since March.
IAEA chief Grossi would not say whether he believes Tehran has the technical capacity to make a nuclear weapon, emphasizing that his agency needs inspection access. Especially since Iran removed 27 monitoring cameras in June, as well as other monitoring systems the IAEA had installed at some of their facilities.
"During two months there were lots of activities in terms of producing parts for more centrifuges that the IAEA is not in a position to confirm," Grossi said. "So we will have to find a way to address this."
The IAEA chief said Iran may choose not to cooperate with his agency, but they say they want to be treated as any other country.
"To do that when it comes to nuclear, good words will not do it," Grossi said. "What you need to do is to be transparent and compliant and work with us. We are ready and I hope they will be as well."