UN atomic watchdog confirms Iran installing advanced centrifuges

Agency chief urges Tehran to ‘respond promptly’ to concerns over its breaches of limits set down in fast-unraveling nuclear deal with major powers

A technician at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, February 3, 2007. (AP/Vahid Salemi/File)
A technician at the Uranium Conversion Facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, 255 miles (410 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, February 3, 2007. (AP/Vahid Salemi/File)

The UN’s nuclear watchdog confirmed Monday that Iran was installing advanced centrifuges as the troubled 2015 deal with world powers over Tehran’s nuclear program threatens to fall apart.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said in a statement that on September 7 it had “verified that the following centrifuges were either installed or being installed…: 22 IR-4, one IR-5, 30 IR-6 and three IR-6s.”

The agency’s head urged Iran to respond quickly to its concerns as the country abandons further agreed limits to its nuclear activities.

Addressing the IAEA quarterly board meeting a day after discussions with high-level officials in Tehran, Cornel Feruta said that in his meetings he “stressed the need for Iran to respond promptly to agency questions related to the completeness of Iran’s safeguards declarations.”

He added: “Time is of the essence.”

The IAEA’s confirmation comes a day after Tehran hit out at European powers, saying they had left Iran little option but to scale back its commitments under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The IAEA added in its statement that the centrifuges had been installed at Iran’s Natanz facility and said “all of the installed centrifuges had been prepared for testing with UF6 (uranium hexafluoride), although none of them were being tested with UF6 on 7 and 8 September 2019.”

“In addition, in a letter to the Agency dated 8 September, Iran informed the Agency that it would reinstall the piping at two R&D lines to accommodate a cascade of 164 IR-4 centrifuges and a cascade of 164 IR-2m centrifuges,” the agency’s statement said.

In this photo released by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, spokesman of the organization Behrouz Kamalvandi speaks in a news briefing as advanced centrifuges are displayed in front of him, in Tehran, Iran, September 7, 2019 (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

Iran has said that notwithstanding its reduction of commitments under the JCPOA, it will continue to allow access to IAEA inspectors who monitor its nuclear program.

Later on Monday, Feruta told reporters in Vienna that his exchanges with Iranian officials were “very substantial” and he “was pleased with the tone and the input we received in those conversations.”

He said “the relationship between the agency and Iran is very much a relationship where we can discuss all issues, and sometimes of course we need to express the need for more.” He added that he believed his message was “very well understood, back in Tehran.”

After the IAEA assessment was released on Monday, Israel’s Foreign Minister Israel Katz called on the remaining signatories of the 2015 deal to follow the US example by abandoning the accord and re-imposing sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

“History has taught us more than once that surrendering to tyrants only leads to violence, not peace,” he said in a statement. “The world must unite to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and its support for terrorism in the region and around the world.”

Reuven Azar, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign policy adviser, said Monday’s IAEA announcement was proof that Tehran was not in compliance with the deal, and never was. In a tweet, Azar said Iran would not be able to answer the IAEA’s questions about its undeclared nuclear sites “because you cheated and continue to cheat.”

‘Wrong approach’

Iran has already broken the limits on uranium enrichment level and the overall stockpile of enriched uranium that were laid down in the JCPOA.

On Sunday the IAEA’s Acting Director General Cornel Feruta was in Tehran, where he met senior Iranian officials.

Later Monday Feruta will address the beginning of the quarterly meeting of the IAEA’s Board of Governors.

Acting Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Cornel Feruta from Romania waits for the start of the IAEA board of governors meeting at the International Center in Vienna, Austria, August 1, 2019. (Ronald Zak/AP)

Also on Monday, China — which along with France, Germany, Britain and Russia is also a signatory to the JCPOA — called on the US to “give up its wrong approach such as unilateral sanctions and extreme pressure against Iran.”

The JCPOA has been under mounting pressure since the US withdrew from the deal in May 2018 and then re-introduced sanctions on Iran.

“At the same time, all parties to the agreement should also commit themselves to the full and effective implementation” of the JCPOA, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters in Beijing.

“We hope that the relevant parties can meet at halfway and push for the easing of tensions around the Iranian nuclear issue,” Hua said.

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