US warns Sunak over censuring Iran at nuclear meeting

The heavily guarded Bushehr nuclear plant on the Persian Gulf. The IAEA believes Iran has enough enriched uranium for three bombs
The heavily guarded Bushehr nuclear plant on the Persian Gulf - Morteza Nikoubazl/NurPhoto/Shutterstock

The US has cautioned Britain against censuring Iran over its nuclear programme amid high tensions in the Middle East and with the presidential election in November, US media reported.

European powers, including Britain and France, are believed to be preparing a censuring resolution against Iran at next week’s meeting of the board of directors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The move reflects mounting frustration over Iran’s refusal to cooperate with the IAEA, which polices nuclear proliferation.

The Biden administration has asked other countries to abstain from the resolution and said it will do the same, the Wall Street Journal reported citing diplomats familiar with the matter.

The decision reflects the White House’s wish to avoid further escalation of tensions with Iran ahead of US presidential elections in November as well as fears that Iran may be more unstable than usual following recent clashes with Israel and the death in a helicopter crash last week of its president, Ebrahim Raisi.

US officials denied lobbying against the resolution.

British officials are understood to think Iran’s nuclear programme has never been more advanced, and are deeply concerned about escalation.

The agency’s 35-member board of governors will gather for a quarterly meeting from June 3 to 7.

Concern about Iran’s atomic ambitions have grown steadily since 2019 when Donald Trump pulled the US out of a deal offering sanctions relief in exchange for curbs to its nuclear programme.

Iran has been enriching uranium to 60 per cent purity for three years, it is believed. It needs roughly 90 per cent purity to build a weapon.

It has enough uranium to build three nuclear bombs if it was refined further, according to an IAEA yardstick.

Joe Biden is keen not to ruffle Iran's nuclear feathers ahead of a US election in November
Joe Biden is keen not to ruffle Iran's nuclear feathers ahead of a US election in November - AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File

Iran denies seeking a nuclear weapon and says all its activities are peaceful. The IAEA counters that no country has enriched to that level without going on to build a bomb.

A senior European diplomat told Reuters last week that the level of Iran’s violations was “unprecedented”.

“There is no slowing down of its programme and there is no real goodwill by Iran to cooperate with the IAEA,” the diplomat said. “All our indicators are flashing red.”

A rift between the US and the “E3” powers of Britain, France and Germany about how to respond has been growing for months.

In November 2022, they all backed an IAEA resolution censuring Iran, but the US cautioned the E3 against a repeat at the last quarterly meeting in March.

Mohammad Mokhber, who took over as acting president on Mr Raisi’s death, addressed parliament in Tehran for the first time on Monday.

Nasser Kanaani, a spokesman for the Iranian foreign ministry, said Mr Raisi’s death had not changed Iran’s approach to getting US sanctions lifted.