Iran reopens uranium plant after 9 years to step up enrichment
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Iran reopens uranium plant after 9 years to step up enrichment

Activity resumes at facility as Trump administration begins dismantling the sanctions relief that was granted to Tehran under nuclear deal

Illustrative: An unidentified International Atomic Energy Agency inspector cuts the connections between the twin cascades for 20 percent uranium enrichment at the Natanz facility, some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, Monday, January 20, 2014. (AP/IRNA, Kazem Ghane)
Illustrative: An unidentified International Atomic Energy Agency inspector cuts the connections between the twin cascades for 20 percent uranium enrichment at the Natanz facility, some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, Monday, January 20, 2014. (AP/IRNA, Kazem Ghane)

Iran on Wednesday reopened a nuclear enrichment plant that has been inactive since 2009, as Tehran geared up to bolster its enrichment activities should the 2015 nuclear deal collapse.

The United States announced in May that it was withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposing sanctions that would hit international businesses working in the Islamic Republic.

Iran has been holding talks with European Union leaders and other officials seeking ways to keep the deal alive, as well as economic guarantees.

Iran has warned it is ready to resume uranium enrichment to 20% “within days” if the deal falls apart. That is still within civilian-use limits, but the level is far above the 3.67% enrichment permitted under the 2015 agreement.

According to the Reuters news agency, the enrichment facility reopened on Wednesday, part of the Isfahan uranium conversion facility, has laid dormant for nine years due to a shortage of “yellowcake,” or uranium oxide.

A barrel of “yellowcake” has since been delivered to the plant to resume production of UF6, according to the report.

Also Wednesday, the Trump administration began dismantling the sanctions relief that was granted to Iran under the deal.

The Treasury Department announced it had revoked licenses that allowed US-controlled foreign firms to export commercial aircraft parts to Iran as well as permitted Americans to trade in Iranian carpets, pistachios and caviar. It said businesses engaged in any such transactions have to wind down those operations by August 6 or face penalties under US sanctions. Another set of licenses covering other types of commerce, including oil purchases, will be revoked in coming weeks, with firms given until November 4 to end those activities.

The step had been expected since May when Trump pulled the US out of the landmark agreement under which Iran was given relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear program. Trump said the accord, a signature foreign policy achievement of his predecessor, President Barack Obama, was the worst deal ever negotiated by the United States because it gave Iran too much in return for too little. Trump also complained that the agreement did not cover Iran’s non-nuclear malign behavior.

The United States also urged fellow UN Security Council members Wednesday to punish Iran for “malign behavior” in the Middle East, at a meeting on implementation of the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.

“When confronted with a country that continually violates this council’s resolutions, it is imperative that we pursue meaningful consequences,” said Jonathan Cohen, the US deputy ambassador to the United Nations.

“That is why we urge members of this Council to join us in the imposition of sanctions that target Iran’s malign behavior in the region,” he stressed.

It was the first meeting of the Security Council since Trump announced the United States was withdrawing from the nuclear agreement with Tehran.

On May 24, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) concluded for the eleventh time Tehran had met its commitments.

In his remarks, Cohen once again accused Iran of supplying missiles to the Houthi rebels in Yemen in violation of an international arms embargo.

In a recent report, the United Nations said that missile components fired at Saudi Arabia had been manufactured in Iran, but that UN officials were unable to determine if they had been delivered before or after the July 2016 imposition of an arms embargo on Yemen.

“Dismantling a nuclear deal that is working would certainly not put us in a better position to discuss other issues,” said EU ambassador to the UN Joao Vale de Almeida, referring to Tehran’s ballistic activities and its influence in the Middle East.

“The collapse of this major achievement would mark a serious step backwards for the region, for the non-proliferation regime but also for our security for all, which would potentially have serious consequences,” said French ambassador Francois Delattre.

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