The United Nations’ atomic watchdog has concluded that Iran is now enriching uranium with a fourth cascade of advanced IR-2m centrifuges at its underground nuclear facility in Natanz, according to a report Thursday.
“On 31 March 2021, the Agency verified at [the Fuel Enrichment Plant] that: Iran had begun feeding natural UF6 into a fourth cascade of 174 IR-2m centrifuges,” a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency cited by Reuters said. UF6 is uranium hexafluoride, which is fed into centrifuges for enrichment.
The move by Tehran is the latest brazen violation of the nuclear deal by the Islamic Republic. It is apparently aimed at pressuring the Biden administration as Iran and the US dig their heels in on who should move first to salvage the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the 2015 nuclear deal is formally known.
Iran also informed the IAEA that it plans to use two more cascades to refine uranium up to 5% fissile purity, Reuters reported. The remaining two cascades have been installed but are not yet in use, according to the IAEA report.
“In summary, as of 31 March 2021, the Agency verified that Iran was using 5,060 IR-1 centrifuges installed in 30 cascades, 696 IR-2m centrifuges installed in four cascades and 174 IR-4 centrifuges installed in one cascade to enrich natural UF6 up to 5% U-235 at FEP,” the quoted report reads.
Earlier this week, Politico reported that the Biden administration is planning to offer to lift some sanctions on Iran if the Islamic Republic stops work on advanced centrifuges and enriching uranium to 20 percent. The new proposal, which is still being finalized, is expected to be put forward this week, the report said.
A person familiar with the matter was quoted by the news site as saying the offer was, “more than anything, about trying to get the conversation started.”
But Iran rejected the offer bluntly, with the state-run Press TV saying on its website: “A senior Iranian official tells Press TV that Tehran will stop its 20-percent uranium enrichment only if the US lifts ALL its sanctions on Iran first.”
An unnamed senior US administration official had said earlier in response to the Politico report that “we have been clear that we are ready to pursue a mutual return” to the 2015 deal limiting Iran’s nuclear program. The official did not explicitly confirm or deny the report.
“We have also been open that we are talking with our [international] partners… about the best way to achieve this, including through a series of initial, mutual steps. We have been looking at options for doing so, including with indirect conversations through our European partners,” the official said.
There have not yet been direct talks between Biden administration officials and Iran, with the proposals for launching negotiations mainly relayed by European intermediaries, according to Politico.
That report came just days after a US official said it was unimportant who returns to compliance with the Iranian nuclear deal first, suggesting Washington was softening its position on the stalemate with Tehran.
The Biden administration has repeatedly said it will return to the nuclear deal if Iran first returns to compliance, while Tehran demands the US lift sanctions before it comes back to the accord.
Iran has gradually violated its commitments to the 2015 deal since former US president Donald Trump withdrew from it in 2018 and reimposed punishing sanctions on Tehran.
Iran in recent months has repeatedly taken steps to breach the agreement and turn up the heat on the US, including by enriching uranium past the accord’s limits, just short of weapon’s grade levels, and barring UN inspections of its nuclear facilities.