Efforts to stop Iran developing nuclear weapons have produced a “final text”, which EU mediators have handed to the US and Iran for approval. Negotiators for both sides are now consulting with their respective leaders after talks to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal – officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – wrapped up in Vienna last week. The landmark accord, signed by the US, Iran, Germany, France, the UK, Russia and China, was abandoned by Washington in 2018 under then President Donald Trump.
Under the deal Tehran agreed to limit its nuclear programme in exchange for relief from US sanctions designed to cripple its economy.
Iran has frequently warned of its ability to develop nukes but has claimed its nuclear programme is solely for energy purposes.
Leading nuclear expert Andrea Stricker has warned that Iran is dragging its feet in the talks with the US to quietly make progress towards obtaining nukes.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, she said: “In my view they are using the negotiations as a way to further their nuclear programme.
“So, they are getting closer and closer to what we call the ‘nuclear threshold’.
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“And if you think of that as like stepping over a step, it would take them the final way to an atomic bomb.
“Once they are at this threshold it is seen as so technically close to being able to make nuclear weapons that they could likely do so before foreign powers could stop them.
“So that is how we view their actions. They could be just drawing out the talks to make covert advances.
“Particularly in the nuclear weaponisation programme, because that is one pillar of their programme that they had not yet accomplished back in the early 2000s.”
Ms Stricker, a researcher at the Foundation for Defence of Democracies, is deputy director of the think tank’s nonproliferation and biodefense programme.
Israel’s prime minister Naftali Bennett also warned in June that Iran was “dangerously close” to building a nuclear weapon.
Experts have cautioned that Iran has enriched uranium at levels over 60 percent purity, meaning it is close to weapons-grade levels of 90 percent.
Ms Stricker explained Iran’s advancement towards 90 percent and how Tehran could hamper the work of the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
She said: “It could divert enriched uranium so quickly and take it to a secret site potentially or create some sort of crisis of access for the IAEA.
“And use their existing stocks of centrifuges and enriched uranium to go to 90 to make multiple significant quantities of highly enriched uranium for a weapon.
“I think that is what we have been looking at and that they would have the capability to quickly weaponise material and potentially put it into a crude nuclear explosive and test it.
“So, I would look at all of those steps, being able to accomplish all of that quickly and without being stopped.”