Rafael Grossi
Rafael GrossiLev Radin/Sipa USA via Reuters Connect

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Rafael Grossi said on Tuesday that loose talk within Iran about abandoning the country’s prohibition on possessing nuclear weapons is very worrying.

Speaking to The Guardian, Grossi said the “loose talk about nuclear weapons is extremely serious for me. And I think it should stop. We are moving closer to a situation where there is a big, huge question mark about what they are doing and why they are doing it.”

His comments follow calls in Iran for the country to develop nuclear weapons in the wake of its conflict with Israel.

An Iranian military leader warned last month that Iran could pursue nuclear weapons in an attempt to deter Israel from retaliating for Iran’s recent missile and drone attack.

Kamal Kharazi, a policy adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, threatened a shift to nuclear deterrence if Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear facilities.

“We have no decision to build a nuclear bomb but should Iran’s existence be threatened, there will be no choice but to change our military doctrine,” Kharazi said.

Earlier this week, Iranian lawmaker Ahmad Bakhshayesh Ardestani declared that the Islamic Republic of Iran already possesses atomic weapons but is refraining from announcing it.

Iranian officials insist that nuclear weapons have no place in Iran's nuclear doctrine, and cite a fatwa (religious decree) by Khamenei, which bans the development of nuclear weapons.

Grossi told The Guardian in Tuesday’s interview that the status of the agreement with Iran on inspecting its civil nuclear program is “in a very tight spot”.

Iran has scaled back its compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal it signed with world powers, in response to former US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement in 2018.

As part of that, Tehran in September barred a third of the IAEA’s core inspections team, including the most experienced, from taking part in agreed monitoring of its uranium enrichment process.

The IAEA has found that, between June and November last year, Iran slowed down the enrichment to 3 kg per month, but that jumped back up to a rate of 9 kg at the end of the year.

Grossi visited Tehran and Isfahan last week to discuss improved access, and his officials are now trying to nail down the technical details of what the inspectors can see.

“I try to make the most of what I can with the cards I have and have a process which is useful. And I think it is not only useful, it is indispensable unless you want to go to war or something like this,” he told The Guardian.

“There was a period when we were recording information and storing this information but could not access it. But there is another period in which there was nothing,” continued Grossi.

“I have been saying that without meaningful engagement, without us being able to have capacity to see and to see more in Iran, my ability to guarantee that everything is for peaceful uses in Iran would be limited and perhaps approaching the moment where I would not be able to say that anymore.”

Grossi added, “There would be a moment when I would draw a line. It would be a very critical juncture because the international community would have to grapple with the reality that we don’t know what Iran may or may not have and the countries will draw their conclusions.”