Tehran has jumpstarted uranium enrichment with next-generation centrifuges at its main nuclear site, a report says. The news marks the latest step in the breakdown of the 2015 nuclear deal.
Iran has begun pumping uranium hexafluoride (UF6) gas into the cascade of advanced IR-2m centrifuges installed at an underground plant in Natanz, Reuters said, citing a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The UF6 gas is used during uranium enrichment.
IAEA chief Rafael Grossi told AP last month that inspectors confirmed Iran was building a new centrifuge assembly plant at the Natanz nuclear site after it was rocked by an explosion in July.
Under the 2015 international deal on the Iranian nuclear program, the country is only allowed to operate older and less efficient IR-1 centrifuges. Iran agreed to these and other restrictions in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions.
However, the agreement has remained in jeopardy after the US unilaterally left it in 2018. President Donald Trump argued that the deal was not in America’s interests and accused Tehran of secretly violating it. Iran had denied these allegations, and the IAEA confirmed at the time that the country had indeed been complying with the accord.
The US has since re-imposed sanctions on Iran and applied new ones, targeting its oil trade and financial sector, among other things. Tehran responded by starting to gradually scale back its compliance with the 2015 deal. Iranian officials promised to return to full compliance once the EU provides some sort of relief from the US sanctions.
On Wednesday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told the Iran Daily newspaper that the US “has no other option” but to return to the 2015 deal, as “Iranians’ resistance doomed the ‘maximum pressure’ [sanctions] campaign to failure.”
Earlier this month, Iran’s national nuclear energy agency announced that it began injecting UF6 gas into centrifuges at the Fordow uranium enrichment facility. The site operates IR-1 centrifuges.
On November 2, Iran authorized the annual production of at least 120kg of 20-percent enriched uranium. It also directed officials to modernize nuclear sites and to operate at least 1,000 IR-2m centrifuges.
According to Iranian state-run Press TV, the government will ask parliament to restore Iran’s full compliance with the 2015 deal if European states start “observing their obligations” under the agreement.
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