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Iran says it’s starting up new centrifuges, claims IAEA ‘hostage to Zionist regime’

Tehran’s nuclear agency head Mohammad Eslami says UN watchdog ‘exploited by illegitimate regime,’ has had ‘reputation destroyed’

Mohammad Eslami, head of Iran's nuclear agency (AEOI) talks on stage at the International Atomic Energy's (IAEA) General Conference in Vienna, Austria, September 20, 2021. (Lisa Leutner/AP)
Mohammad Eslami, head of Iran's nuclear agency (AEOI) talks on stage at the International Atomic Energy's (IAEA) General Conference in Vienna, Austria, September 20, 2021. (Lisa Leutner/AP)

Amid global tensions with the West over its nuclear activity, Iran’s atomic agency chief announced that it has begun injecting gas into newly installed advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges.

The head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Mohammad Eslami, who made the announcement during an interview with Iranian national TV on Thursday, claimed the decision was in line with international regulations.

Eslami did not specify where the centrifuges in question were located. But his announcement came on the same day the UN’s nuclear watchdog reported that Tehran had informed it of its plan to install two new cascades of advanced centrifuges at the underground Natanz nuclear facility that will allow it to rapidly enrich more uranium.

The moves come as countries at an International Atomic Energy Agency meeting in Vienna voted Wednesday night to censure Iran. The rebuke deals with what the watchdog refers to as Iran’s failure to provide “credible information” over man-made nuclear material found at three undeclared sites in the country.

But even before the vote, Iran shut off two devices the IAEA uses to monitor enrichment at Natanz. Then, on Thursday, the IAEA reported that Iran is removing 27 surveillance cameras from nuclear sites around the country, raising the risk of its inspectors being unable to track Tehran’s advances as it enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, the IAEA director-general, warned that in three to four weeks, it would be unable to maintain a “continuity of knowledge” about Iran’s program. “This would be a fatal blow” to negotiations over Iran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers, Grossi said.

Iranian officials also threatened to take more steps amid a years-long crisis.

“In the last 20 years, all the methods, behaviors, psychological operations, sanctions, and resolutions that they have exercised and imposed have been in line with the policy of stopping the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Eslami said during Thursday’s interview regarding the IAEA censure.

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

“It is regrettable that an international institution has been exploited by an illegitimate regime and its reputation has been destroyed,” he said, accusing the UN agency of being “hostage to the Zionist regime.”

Asked about the decision to disconnect the IAEA monitoring devices, Eslami said: “We kept the cameras in place in accordance with the [nuclear deal] to show our goodwill, but now that false and unacceptable accusations have been made against Tehran, the recent decision was made.”

Iran and world powers agreed in 2015 to the nuclear deal, which saw Tehran drastically limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. In 2018, then-US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord, raising tensions across the wider Middle East and sparking a series of attacks and incidents.

Talks in Vienna over Iran’s tattered nuclear deal have been stalled since April. Since the deal’s collapse, Iran has been running advanced centrifuges and has a rapidly growing stockpile of enriched uranium.

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, second right, listens to an explanation while viewing an advanced centrifuge at an exhibition of Iran’s nuclear achievements in Tehran, Iran on April 9, 2022. (Iran President’s Office)

Nonproliferation experts warn Iran has enriched enough up to 60 percent purity — a short technical step from weapons-grade levels of 90% — to make one nuclear weapon should it decide to do so.

Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes, though UN experts and Western intelligence agencies say Iran had an organized military nuclear program through 2003.

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