Europeans slam Iran plan to boost enrichment, warn it not to boot UN inspectors

France, Germany and UK say announcements and plans by Tehran violate nuclear deal

Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, November 5, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)
Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran, November 5, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP, File)

Plans by Iran to install advanced centrifuges at its main nuclear enrichment plant in Natanz are “deeply worrying,” France, Germany and the UK said on Monday.

The three governments, dubbed the E3, said the plans were contrary to the 2015 agreement between Tehran and world powers that aimed to restrain Iran’s nuclear program by barring sophisticated centrifuges. The E3 also warned Iran not to move ahead with a law that would see it boot UN inspectors and increase uranium enrichment.

The development came days after Iran informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it planned to install several cascades, or clusters, of advanced uranium-enriching centrifuges at the Natanz plant in violation of its commitments under the nuclear deal.

“In a letter dated 2 December 2020, Iran informed the Agency that the operator of the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) at Natanz ‘intends to start installation of three cascades of IR-2m centrifuge machines at FEP,” a confidential IAEA report to its member states said, Reuters reported Friday.

Under the deal, Iran is only permitted to use the less advanced, less efficient first-generation IR-1 centrifuges at the fortified underground plant.

The US imposed crippling sanctions on Iran after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the nuclear agreement in 2018. In response, Iran began publicly exceeding enrichment limits set by the agreement while saying it would quickly return to compliance if the United States did the same.

The three European countries said Monday that the deal, officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was the best and currently the only way to monitor and constrain Iran’s nuclear program.

The director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Grossi, center left, speaks with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, center, before a meeting in Tehran, Iran, August 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

The IAEA, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, said last month that Iran had installed and begun operating advanced centrifuges at an underground section at Natanz.

“Iran’s recent announcement to the IAEA that it intends to install an additional three cascades of advanced centrifuges at the Fuel Enrichment Plant in Natanz is contrary to the JCPOA and deeply worrying,” the E3 said.

Since May last year, Iran has taken steps to violate that limit and several others laid down in the deal in retaliation for Trump’s withdrawal from the accord in 2018 and subsequent reimposition of sanctions.

Last Wednesday, moreover, a key Iranian panel signed off on a bill — approved by parliament the previous day — to suspend UN inspections and boost uranium enrichment, sending it to Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, who opposes the measure.

The move appeared to be a show of defiance after the killing — reportedly by Israel — of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a key figure in Iran’s nuclear program seen as the father of its plans to build an atomic bomb.

Relating to that bill, the E3 said its implementation “would be incompatible with the JCPoA and Iran’s wider nuclear commitments. If Iran is serious about preserving a space for diplomacy, it must not implement these steps. Such a move would jeopardize our shared efforts to preserve the JCPoA and risks compromising the important opportunity for a return to diplomacy with the incoming US Administration. A return to the JCPoA would also be beneficial for Iran.”

Iran is seeking to step up pressure on the incoming Joe Biden US administration to return to the original deal. Biden has indicated he will return to the accord but said he wants to institute changes.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends a news conference with Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza in Caracas, Venezuela, November 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Thursday his country wouldn’t agree to renegotiate elements of the international accord limiting its nuclear program.

“It will never be renegotiated. Period,” Zarif told a conference in Italy, speaking remotely.

Meanwhile, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doubled down on his stance that Biden’s plan to re-enter the nuclear deal would be misguided.

“It’s a mistake to go back to the JCPOA. You shouldn’t go back to that flawed agreement,” he said in a televised interview with the DC-based Hudson Institute’s Michael Doran.

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