US, allies clash with Russia, Iran at UN meeting over uranium enrichment and drones

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The United States and its Western allies clashed with Russia and Iran at the UN Security Council on Thursday over Tehran’s advancing uranium enrichment and its reported supply of combat drones to Moscow being used to attack Ukraine.

The sharp exchanges came at the council’s semi-annual meeting on implementation of its resolution endorsing the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major countries known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which the US under then-President Donald Trump left in 2018.

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At the start of the meeting, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused Britain, which hold the council presidency, of seeking to hold “an openly politicized show” by inviting Ukraine to take part in the meeting when it is not part of the JCPOA. He demanded a procedural vote on its participation.

US deputy ambassador Robert Wood countered, accusing both Iran and Russia of participating in the transfer of drones used in Ukraine without prior Security Council approval in violation of the 2015 resolution.

“This is a matter of life or death for the Ukrainian people,” Wood said. “It would be unconscionable to deny Ukraine the opportunity to speak at this meeting when it is experiencing the devastating effects of Iran’s violation of resolution 2231 firsthand.”

Britain’s UN Ambassador Barbara Woodward, who was chairing the council meeting, then called for a vote on whether Ukraine could participate. Twelve members voted “yes,” while China and Russia voted “no” and Mozambique abstained.

The United States, Britain, France and Ukraine have urged UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to send investigators to Ukraine to examine debris from drones used in Russia’s attacks, insisting that resolution 2231 gives him a mandate to open an investigation.

Russia insists he has no such authority and Nebenzia warned the UN Secretariat against taking any such action. Iran’s UN Ambassador Amir Saeid Iravani added that any UN findings “based on such illegal activities is null and void.”

UN political chief Rosemary DiCarlo said in her briefing to the council that France, Germany, Ukraine, the UK and US had written letters concerning alleged transfers of drones from Iran to Russia and had provided photographs and their analyses of the recovered drones.

“The Secretariat continues to examine the available information,” DiCarlo said, giving no indication of when or if a UN investigation would take place.

Ukraine’s UN Ambassador Sergiy Kyslytsya told the council that more than 1,000 drone launches over Ukraine had been recorded and that analysis by Ukrainian and international experts confirmed their Iranian origin.

Russia’s Nebenzia accused Ukraine and the West of fomenting misinformation and dismissed the evidence as comical.

France, Germany and the UK, which are parties to the JCPOA, said in a joint statement that Iran has also been in violation of its nuclear commitments under the 2015 deal for four years.

They pointed to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s reports that Iran’s total stockpiles of enriched uranium are now 21 times the amount permitted under the 2015 nuclear deal — and the IAEA’s detection in January of uranium particles enriched to 83.7 percent, which is almost at weapons-grade levels of 90 percent. Any stockpile of uranium at that level could be quickly used to produce an atomic bomb if Iran chooses.

The 2015 nuclear deal limited Tehran’s uranium stockpile to 300 kilograms (661 pounds) and enrichment to 3.67 percent — enough to fuel a nuclear power plant. But following the US withdrawal, Tehran escalated its nuclear program and has been producing uranium enriched to 60 percent purity — a level for which nonproliferation experts already say Tehran has no civilian use.

Iran informed the IAEA that “unintended fluctuations” in enrichment levels may have occurred accounting for the particles enriched to 83.7 percent, and Iravani, the Iranian ambassador, and Russia’s Nebenzia both said the issue has been resolved.

France, Germany and the UK said Iran also “continues to develop and improve ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons,” pointing to a May 25 test of a missile they said is capable of delivering a warhead to a range of 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles).

US ambassador Wood said “Iran’s ballistic missile activity – especially in light of Tehran’s nuclear ambitions and its threatening rhetoric – is an enduring threat to regional and international peace and security.”

Iravani countered that “Iran is fully determined to vigorously pursue its peaceful nuclear activities including enrichment.”

Negotiations on the US rejoining the deal and Iran returning to its commitments broke down last August. European Union Ambassador Olof Skoog told the council the EU compromise text is still on the table “as a potential point of departure for any renewed effort to bring the JCPOA back on track.”

Iravani said: “We are still prepared for the resumption of negotiations should the other side be ready to do the same.”

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