The top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Wednesday that new findings by the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency show the need for Washington to significantly broaden U.S. sanctions on Iran in order to prevent the Islamic republic from developing a nuclear weapon.
The latest report by the International Atomic Energy Agency "makes clear that Iran continues to rapidly expand its nuclear weapons program, and underscores the urgency of Congress passing new Iran sanctions legislation into law," Rep. Eliot L. Engel, New York Democrat, said in a statement.
Iran has installed roughly 1,000 advanced uranium centrifuges and is now set to test them — new numbers that signal an uptick in IR-2m centrifuges at Iran's underground Natanz nuclear complex compared with the IAEA's last quarterly assessment.
In May, the agency said that roughly 700 enrichment devices had been installed, compared with 180 in February.
Iran has publicly denied that it is attempting to develop a nuclear weapon. Its leaders have been claiming in recent years that the Islamic republic's nuclear program is focused toward medical programs that depend on enriched uranium.
The IAEA report suggests a growing frustration within the agency with Iran.
"The agency has not been able to begin substantive work with Iran on resolving the outstanding issues, including those related to possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear programme," the report said.
The findings are the first to be made public since Iranian President Hassan Rouhani took office in Tehran early this month. Some observers have described him as more moderate than Iran's previous president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and have suggested the Islamic Republic could be on the verge of moving toward positive negotiations with Western powers in the decades-old dispute over its nuclear program.
There was a glimmer of good news for the U.S. and its allies in the report: The IAEA says Iran apparently has delayed the planned opening of a separate nuclear facility roughly 150 southwest of Tehran.
The IAEA's May assessment cited construction at the facility, but the latest findings indicate that the facility's early 2014 opening has been delayed, according to Reuters.
U.S. lawmakers, meanwhile, have moved more slowly than expected this summer in passing what initially had been a spirited push for sanctions targeting Iran's economy — and also its political leaders.
In July, the House passed a bill that would grow the number of individuals and entities that the Obama administration can sanction — well above those presently targeted in the administration's existing push to impose a global embargo on Iranian crude oil.
The Senate, however, has not passed the legislation.
Some observers have raised concerns about the legislation's call to aggressively expand the numbers and kinds of human rights abuses that Iranian political figures could be cited for, since such abuses would allow Washington to freeze the assets not only of active officials, but also of all of their relatives — including any who may be living in the U.S.
The legislation would require the Obama administration to report more regularly to Congress on the status of Iran's nuclear program. In general, it would "limit Iran's access to overseas foreign currency reserves, blacklist more sectors of the economy, and begin to target significant commercial trade with Iran," Rep. Edward R. Royce, California Republican and chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, said as lawmakers on the House side weighed the legislation in May.
"Shipping is targeted too," said Mr. Royce, who was joined by Mr. Engel in introducing the legislation. "We squeeze — and then squeeze some more."
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