The European Union and Russia on Tuesday voiced concern over Iran’s announcement that it would resume uranium enrichment at an underground plant, in a fresh step away from the 2015 nuclear deal.
“We are concerned by President [Hassan] Rouhani’s announcement today to further reduce Iran’s commitments under the JCPOA,” EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told reporters.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said Moscow was also “monitoring the development of the situation with concern” and supported “the preservation of this deal.”
At the same time, Peskov said Russia understood Tehran’s concerns over the “unprecedented and illegal sanctions” against the country.
Washington’s abandonment of the 2015 deal in May last year, followed by its reimposition of crippling sanctions, prompted Tehran to begin a phased suspension of its own commitments this year.
France called on Tehran to reverse its decision to resume enrichment, saying it “goes against the Vienna agreement, which strictly limits activities in this area.”
French foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said Paris remained committed to the accord and urged Iran to “fully adhere to its obligations and to cooperate fully with the IAEA,” according to Reuters.
Earlier Iran’s president announced that Tehran will begin injecting uranium gas into 1,044 centrifuges.
The development is significant as the centrifuges previously spun empty, without gas injection, under the 2015 nuclear accord. It also increases pressure on European nations that remain in the accord, which at this point has all but collapsed.
In his announcement, Rouhani did not comment on the enrichment level of the uranium that would be produced by the centrifuges, which are at the underground nuclear facility in Fordo. The centrifuges would be injected with the uranium gas as of Wednesday, Rouhani said.
His remarks, carried live on Iranian state television, came a day after Tehran’s nuclear program chief said the country had doubled the number of advanced IR-6 centrifuges in operation.
There was no immediate reaction from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog now monitoring Iran’s compliance with the deal. The White House on Monday sanctioned members of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s inner circle as part of its maximalist campaign against Tehran.
The centrifuges at Fordo are IR-1s, Iran’s first-generation centrifuges. The nuclear deal allowed those at Fordo to spin without uranium gas, while allowing up to 5,060 at its Natanz facility to enrich uranium.
A centrifuge enriches uranium by rapidly spinning uranium hexafluoride gas. An IR-6 centrifuge can produce enriched uranium 10 times faster than an IR-1, Iranian officials say.
Iranian scientists also are working on a prototype called the IR-9, which works 50 times faster than the IR-1, Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akhbar Salehi said Monday.
As of now, Iran is enriching uranium up to 4.5 percent, in violation of the accord’s limit of 3.67%. Enriched uranium at the 3.67% level is enough for peaceful pursuits but is far below weapons-grade levels of 90%. At the 4.5% level, it is enough to help power Iran’s Bushehr reactor, the country’s only nuclear power plant. Prior to the atomic deal, Iran only enriched up to 20%.
Tehran has gone from producing some 450 grams (1 pound) of low-enriched uranium a day to 5 kilograms (11 pounds), Salehi said. Iran now holds over 500 kilograms (1,102 pounds) of low-enriched uranium, Salehi said. The deal had limited Iran to 300 kilograms (661 pounds).