An Iranian official said on Sunday that the mysterious blast at Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility last month was the “result of sabotage.”
Iran’s nuclear agency spokesperson, Behrouz Kamalvandi, made the statement to the country’s state-owned Arabic-language Al-Alam news channel.
“The explosion at Natanz nuclear facility was a result of sabotage operations. Security authorities will reveal in due time the reason behind the blast,” Kamalvandi said, according to a translation by the Reuters news agency.
The development was also reported by Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency.
The July 2 explosion, which foreign media reports have attributed to Israel or the US, damaged an advanced centrifuge development and assembly plant. It has been reported by some experts to have significantly set back Iran’s nuclear program,
According to a report last month by Iranian news website “Didban Iran” (“Iran Watch”), tied to the country’s intelligence ministry, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has concluded that the instigator of the blast was Ershad Karimi, a contractor at the site who owns a company, MEHR, that supplies precision measuring equipment.
According to a New York Times report, the blast was most likely the result of a bomb planted at the facility, potentially at a strategic gas line. The report did not rule out the possibility that a cyber attack was used to cause a malfunction that led to the explosion.
Iranian officials previously said that there were “traces of an explosion from elements on the inside [of the building],” and that the blast was not caused by a drone or missile attack, but refused to divulge more information, citing security concerns.
The explosion was one of a series of mysterious blasts at Iranian strategic sites around the same time, which were largely attributed to either Washington, Jerusalem, or both.
Reports earlier this month indicated Iran has been moving to boost uranium enrichment at Natanz. A document from the International Atomic Energy Agency cited by the Bloomberg news agency said new advanced centrifuges were being moved from a pilot facility to a new area of the nuclear facility.
The move appeared to violate the 2015 nuclear agreement Iran signed with world powers, and may show that the alleged sabotage at the plant last month did not significantly set back Iran’s nuclear program. It also suggested the damage to Natanz was not as severe as first believed.
The ban on selling weapons to Iran is set to be progressively eased from October under the terms of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which blessed the Iran nuclear deal to which world powers agreed in July 2015. A US proposal to indefinitely extend the arms embargo on Iran was resoundingly defeated a week ago at the UN Security Council.
The European Union has said it will continue to enforce its own embargo against Iran after the lifting of the UN embargo.
Under the nuclear accord officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, Iran committed to limiting its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
But the JCPOA has been on life-support since the US withdrew from it and reimposed unilateral sanctions in 2018.
Iran has since taken small but escalatory steps away from compliance with the agreement, as it presses for the sanctions relief it was promised. Some of those steps are believed to have been at the Natanz nuclear site.
The US is currently engaged in a likely doomed bid to renew international sanctions against Iran at the UN, despite Trump’s withdrawal from the accord.