Iran has admitted a further breach of the 2015 nuclear deal by firing up advanced uranium-enriching centrifuges installed at its underground plant at Natanz.
The finding was made by the UN nuclear weapons inspectorate, the International Atomic Energy Association, and confirmed by the Iranian ambassador to the IAEA.
Donald Trump last week considered but rejected a military strike on Natanz, south of Tehran and the country’s main uranium-enrichment site. But the latest move by Iran may be regarded by his administration as a provocation that changes his, or Israel’s, calculation of risk. The development comes weeks ahead of him standing down and being replaced by Joe Biden, who is committed to re-entering the nuclear deal struck under Barack Obama.
According to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the Islamic Republic can only accumulate enriched uranium with first-generation IR-1 machines, which are the only ones it is permitted to operate at the underground plant. But the IAEA report said that Tehran had been feeding uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas feedstock into advanced IR-2m machines.
A previous IAEA report said that Iran had installed the IR-2m machines underground. And in its latest report, dated Tuesday, the IAEA states: “On 14 November 2020, the Agency verified that Iran began feeding UF6 into the recently installed cascade of 174 IR-2m centrifuges at the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) in Natanz.”
The previous report was based on a visit to the plant on 2 November before Biden had been elected, but this latest assessment is based on Iranian actions after Biden’s victory.
Iran has been steadily breaching limits set in the nuclear agreement in what it portrays as a calculated and justified response to the US decision to quit the deal, (known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPoA), impose crippling sanctions and punish European companies that seek to trade with the country.
United Nations’ atomic watchdog says Iran violating all restrictions of nuclear deal
Earlier, Iran has continued to increase its stockpiles of enriched uranium and remains in violation of its deal with world powers, the United Nations’ atomic watchdog said Friday.
The International Atomic Energy Agency reported the finding in a confidential document distributed to member countries and seen by The Associated Press.
The agency said that as of May 20, Iran’s total stockpile of low-enriched uranium amounted to 1,571.6 kilograms (1.73 tons), up from 1,020.9 kilograms (1.1 tons) on Feb. 19.
Iran signed the nuclear deal in 2015 with the United States, Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia. Known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, it allows Iran only to keep a stockpile of 202.8 kilograms (447 pounds).
The U.S. unilaterally pulled out of the deal in 2018.
The IAEA reported that Iran has also been continuing to enrich uranium to a purity of 4.5 percent, higher than the 3.67 percent allowed under the JCPOA. It is also above the pact’s limitations on heavy water.
The nuclear deal promised Iran economic incentives in return for the curbs on its nuclear program. Since President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the deal, Iran has been slowly violating the restrictions.