Iran opens new nuclear facility for centrifuge production
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Iran opens new nuclear facility for centrifuge production

Regime's nuclear chief inaugurates Natanz plant, which will increase enrichment, but operate within the limits of nuclear deal

Iran's nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz, April, 9, 2007. (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)
Iran's nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz, April, 9, 2007. (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s nuclear chief has inaugurated the Islamic Republic’s new nuclear enrichment facility at Natanz, which is geared toward producing centrifuges that will operate within the limits of the nuclear deal Tehran signed with world powers.

Iranian state television broadcast an interview with Ali Akbar Salehi after nightfall on Wednesday, showcasing the facility at Natanz’s uranium enrichment center.

In the interview, Salehi said the facility’s construction began even before the 2015 deal was signed and that he hopes the first centrifuges — known as old-generation centrifuges — will roll out in a month’s time.

In a gesture likely directed at the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the deal, Iran on Tuesday informed the UN nuclear watchdog that it will increase its nuclear enrichment capacity, yet stay within the provisions of the accord.

Head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi, who is also a member of Iran’s nuclear negotiating team, speaks with journalists upon his arrival to Mehrabad Airport in Tehran, Iran, July 15, 2015. (AP/ Ebrahim Noroozi)

The EU, which is working to save the 2015 agreement with Iran after the US pulled out, warned Tuesday the Iranian announcement would not help build confidence in the Iranian program, but said it did not constitute a breach of the deal.

“Following a first assessment, the announced steps per se are not a violation of the JCPOA,” Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini, told AFP. The agreement is officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“However, at this particularly critical juncture, they will not contribute to build confidence in the nature of the Iranian nuclear program.”

Salehi stressed that his announcement was just the start of the production process and did not mean Iran was about to start assembling centrifuges.

Under the 2015 nuclear agreement that Iran signed with the US, China, Russia, Britain, France, and Germany after years of difficult talks, Tehran can build and test parts for advanced centrifuges, but specific restrictions exist on what technology can be researched and in what quantity within the first decade of the deal.

European governments have been trying to salvage the nuclear deal since the United States last month withdrew and said it would reimpose sanctions on foreign companies working in the Islamic Republic by November.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini addresses a joint press conference before chairing a regular session of the International Donor Group for Palestine (Ad Hoc Liaison Committee (AHLC)) at the European Commission in Brussels on March 20, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / EMMANUEL DUNAND)

The remaining parties have vowed to stay in the accord but many of their companies have already started to wind down Iranian operations.

The EU is trying to come up with ways to persuade Iran to stick with the deal by protecting the economic benefits it gained when tough sanctions were lifted in return for it halting the weapons-capable aspects of its nuclear program.

“As stated repeatedly, we expect Iran to stick to all its JCPOA commitments, to be monitored by the IAEA, as it has been doing so far and has been confirmed by the IAEA in 11 consecutive reports,” Kocijancic told AFP.

“The IAEA is the only body in charge of the monitoring and verification of the implementation by Iran of its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA.”

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