UN watchdog: Breaching deal, Iran pumping uranium gas into advanced centrifuges

IAEA says Tehran is using advanced technology at underground Natatz plant prohibited by 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers

By TOI STAFF and AGENCIESToday, 11:56 am  0A lift truck carries a cylinder containing uranium hexafluoride gas for the purpose of injecting the gas into centrifuges in Iran’s Fordo nuclear facility, November 6, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

The UN’s atomic watchdog agency has reportedly found that Iran is pumping uranium gas into advanced centrifuges at an underground part of the Natanz nuclear facility, in the latest breach of the 2015 nuclear deal signed with world powers.

The International Atomic Energy Agency reported in a document distributed to member countries that Iran is feeding uranium hexafluoride (UF₆) gas feedstock into the advanced IR-2m uranium-enriching centrifuges installed at the Natanz plant, Reuters reported Wednesday.

“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 IAEA report was quoted as saying.

The nuclear deal Iran signed in 2015 with the United States, Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, only allows Iran to use first-generation IR-1 machines, and states that those are the only ones it was allowed operate at Natanz’s underground plant.

The report comes a week after the UN atomic watchdog said that Iran continues to increase its stockpile of low-enriched uranium far beyond the limits set in the nuclear deal and to enrich it to a greater purity than permitted.In this February 3, 2007, file photo, an Iranian technician works at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

The IAEA also reported that Iran has also been continuing to enrich uranium to a purity of up to 4.5%, higher than the 3.67% allowed under the deal.

Iran has openly announced a number of violations of the nuclear deal in advance, which have followed the decision by the US to pull out unilaterally in 2018.

The deal promises Iran economic incentives in exchange for the curbs on its nuclear program. Since the US withdrawal and imposition of new sanctions, Tehran has been putting pressure on the remaining parties with the violations to come up with new ways to offset the economy-crippling actions by Washington.

At the same time, the Iranian government has continued to allow International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors access to its nuclear facilities, a key reason the countries that remain parties to the JCPOA say it’s worth preserving.

The goal of the agreement is to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon, something the country insists it does not intend to do.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tuesday that Tehran was willing to return to the 2015 nuclear deal if US President-elect Joe Biden lifts sanctions on Iran after entering the White House.US President Barack Obama, right, with Vice President Joe Biden, delivers remarks in the East Room of the White House in Washington on July 14, 2015, after an Iran nuclear deal is reached. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

Biden pledged to return to the accord during his presidential campaign if Iran returns to fulfilling its commitments. Tehran began breaching the terms of the deal after President Donald Trump withdrew the US in 2018 and began sanctioning Iran.

“We are ready to discuss how the United States can reenter the accord,” Zarif told Iranian media, according to a translation by Reuters.

“If Mr. Biden is willing to fulfill US commitments, we too can immediately return to our full commitments in the accord… and negotiations are possible within the framework of the P5+1,” Zarif said, referring to the six world powers that signed onto the deal.

Biden was vice president when former US president Barack Obama signed the deal with Iran.

The Trump administration is reportedly planning an array of wide-ranging sanctions on Iran to make it more difficult for the incoming administration to reenter the deal.

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