Iran announced on Saturday that it has started up advanced IR-6 and IR-5 centrifuges that enrich uranium more quickly, in a new breach of its undertakings under the troubled 2015 nuclear agreement.
It also said it has begun mechanical tests on an even faster nuclear centrifuge: The output of Iran’s IR-9 centrifuge, when operational, would be 50 times quicker than the first Iranian centrifuge, the IR-1. Iran’s nuclear program is also developing IR-8 centrifuges.
President Hassan Rouhani officially inaugurated the cascades of 164 IR-6 centrifuges and 30 IR-5 devices at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment plant in a ceremony for National Nuclear Technology Day on Saturday broadcast by state television.
The broadcast aired no images of the cascades but broadcast a link with engineers at the plant who said they had introduced uranium hexafluoride gas to the cascades after receiving the order from Rouhani.
The IR-5 and IR-6 centrifuges allow uranium to be enriched more quickly and in greater amounts than Iran’s first-generation devices, which are the only ones that the 2015 deal allows it to use.
Rouhani reiterated during the ceremony that Tehran’s nuclear program is solely for “peaceful and civilian” purposes. “If the West looks at the morals and beliefs that exist in our country, they will find that they should not be worried and sensitive about our nuclear technology, but because they themselves have used this technology [inappropriately], they think that we will do the same,” Rouhani said, according to Iran’s Mehr news agency.
On Friday night, a spokesperson for the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said the country was enriching material at a rapid pace — in violation of the nuclear deal — adding that should “Western parties” continue to delay the lifting of sanctions, they would be the “big loser.”
“The number of our centrifuges and the amount of enriched (nuclear) material are increasing rapidly,” said Behrouz Kamalvandi in comments broadcast on Instagram and cited by the Tasnim news agency Saturday.
#Iran's state TV today broadcast first images of the country's advanced IR-9 centrifuges, with atomic energy chief Salehi explaining to President Rouhani what the "s" in IR-9s means.
The IR-9 machines are undergoing mechanical testing and are not yet operational. pic.twitter.com/DuRiEO6jlA
— Kian Sharifi (@KianSharifi) April 10, 2021
The new violation comes amid a new report Friday by the UN’s nuclear watchdog indicated a fresh breach by Iran of its nuclear obligations and ongoing talks in Vienna this week to revive the nuclear accord. The Biden administration engaged in indirect dialogue with Iran for the first time this week by communicating with the Iranian delegation through European intermediaries.
The talks broke for the weekend on Friday with a senior US official suggesting the US and Iran may be at an impasse over Tehran’s demands to lift all sanctions imposed under the Trump administration since 2017.
Also Friday, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a report released Friday that Iran had again violated limits on its stockpile of enriched uranium, according to Reuters.
The IAEA report does not explicitly say that Iran violated the deal’s terms, but the agency releases such reports when a breach occurs. Diplomatic sources told Reuters that the report indicated that a breach of the deal had occurred.
The 2015 deal placed strict limits on Iran’s uranium stockpile. The IAEA determined on Wednesday that Iran had violated those limits by recovering uranium from items called scrap fuel plates.
“On 7 April 2021, the Agency verified at the Fuel Plate Fabrication Plant at Esfahan that Iran had dissolved six unirradiated scrap fuel plates for the TRR [Tehran Research Reactor] containing 0.43 kg of uranium enriched up to 20% U-235,” the report said according to Reuters.
The amount of new enriched uranium is relatively small but threatens to derail talks being held to revive the deal.
Iran met with the deal’s signatories in Vienna this week. The talks broke Friday, with no clear signs of progress.
The US said it had offered “very serious” ideas on reviving the nuclear accord but was waiting for Tehran to reciprocate.
US President Joe Biden hopes to return to the 2015 agreement, which his predecessor Donald Trump had trashed as he launched a “maximum pressure” campaign in hopes of bringing Tehran to its knees.
A US official told reporters Friday that the US team “put forward a very serious idea and demonstrated a seriousness of purpose on coming back into compliance if Iran comes back into compliance.”
But the official said the United States was waiting for its efforts to be “reciprocated” by Iran.
“We saw some signs of it but certainly not enough. There’s still question marks about whether Iran has the willingness to… take the pragmatic approach that the United States has taken to come back into compliance with its obligations under the deal,” he said.
Biden argues that the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated under former president Barack Obama had been successful, with UN inspectors saying Iran was meeting its promises to scale back nuclear work dramatically.
Iran has demanded that the United States first lift all sanctions imposed by Trump, which include a sweeping unilateral ban on its oil exports, before it falls back in line with obligations it suspended.
The “US —- which caused this crisis —- should return to full compliance first,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter, adding that “Iran will reciprocate following rapid verification.”
The head of Iran’s delegation to the talks Abbas Araghchi stressed the need for “political will and seriousness from other parties.”
“Otherwise, there will be no reason to continue negotiations,” he said.
The US official indicated that the major stumbling block in the initial talks was not the order of compliance but rather which sanctions were under discussion as Iran is demanding an end to all US restrictions.
The deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), covers only nuclear sanctions and not US measures taken in response to human rights or other concerns, the official said.
While Biden can lift sanctions, his diplomacy has already faced heated attacks from Trump’s Republican Party, some of whose members have called in the past for attacking Iran.
Iran refused to meet directly with US negotiator Rob Malley during the talks led by the European Union, whose envoys shuttled between the two sides in different hotels.
Talks are set to resume Wednesday with Iran again meeting the other nations in the deal — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia as well as the European Union.