Iran distances itself further from nuclear deal
Iran has stepped up activity at its underground Fordow nuclear plant, state TV said on Wednesday. This move showed for the first time that Tehran explicitly planned to quit a deal with world powers that curbed its disputed nuclear work, Reuters writes in the article Iran distances itself further from nuclear deal, alarming Russia, France. Russia and France have already expressed concern about Iran’s decision to start pumping uranium gas into centrifuges in Fordo.
“With the presence of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran started injecting (uranium) gas into centrifuges in Fordow,” TV reported. The 2015 deal bans Fordow from producing nuclear material. But, with feedstock gas entering its centrifuges, the facility - built inside a mountain - will move from the permitted status of research plant to being an active nuclear site. President Hassan Rouhani, an architect of the 2015 deal, blamed Washington for Iran’s rolling back of its commitments, saying Fordow would soon fully resume uranium enrichment work. “Iran’s fourth step in reducing its commitments under the JCPOA (the 2015 nuclear deal) by injecting gas to 1,044 centrifuges begins today. Thanks to U.S. policy and its allies, Fordow will soon be back to full operation,” Rouhani tweeted.
Speaking in China, French President Emmanuel Macron called Iran’s latest move “grave”, saying it explicitly signaled Iran’s intent for the first time to leave the deal. “I think that for the first time, Iran has decided in an explicit and blunt manner to leave the JCPOA, which marks a profound shift,” said Macron, who has been at the forefront of efforts by European signatories to salvage the deal after the United States withdrew. When asked whether Paris would support triggering a dispute mechanism enshrined in the deal, Macron said technical and ministerial meetings would be held to discuss the wider implications of Iran’s actions. In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said events unfolding around the nuclear deal were deeply disturbing and called on Iran to stick to the terms of the deal. But he added that Moscow understood why Tehran was cutting back on its commitments, and blamed the situation on the U.S. decision to pull out of the pact.
Responding to Washington’s “maximum pressure” policy, Iran has bypassed the restrictions of the deal step-by-step - including by breaching both its cap on stockpiled enriched uranium and on the fissile level of enrichment. “Iran has taken its fourth step to decrease its nuclear commitments to the deal in reaction to the increased U.S. pressure and inactivity of European parties to the deal to save it,” Iranian state TV added.
Speeding up enrichment
In Vienna, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said IAEA inspectors remained on the ground in Iran and would report back on relevant activities. Iranian authorities said on Tuesday that Tehran will enrich uranium to 5% at Fordow, which will further complicate the chances of saving an accord that European powers, Russia and the European Union have urged Iran to respect. The agreement capped the level of purity to which Iran can enrich uranium at 3.67% - suitable for civilian power generation and far below the 90% threshold of nuclear weapons grade.
A central aim of the agreement was to extend the time the Islamic Republic would need to assemble a nuclear weapon, if it chose to do so, to a year from about 2-3 months. Iran has repeatedly denied any such intention. Recently, Iran provided the UK, France and Germany with another two-month period to save the deal. According to Iranian officials, the negotiations are possible if Washington lifts all sanctions and fulfills its obligations under the nuclear deal.