Tehran has for the first time started enriching uranium to 60% fissile purity at the Fordow facility, Iranian media reported on Tuesday. Such a move would be seen as a response to a critical resolution adopted by the UN’s nuclear watchdog last week.
Iran is already enriching uranium at Natanz, its other major production site, to below weapons-grade 90% enrichment, but well above the 3.67% limit specified in the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal, or JCPOA. The US abandoned the deal with Tehran during the administration of Donald Trump, leading to its erosion and effective collapse.
Other reported moves by Iran include upgrading cascade lines with more advanced gas centrifuges to boost production capacity at Fordow, as well as firing up additional chains at Natanz.
Tehran’s action was described as retaliation in a resolution passed last Thursday by the Board of Directors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The document, which was drafted by the US, Britain, France and Germany, decried “insufficient substantive cooperation by Iran” on the issue of uranium traces found in 2019 by inspectors at three undeclared sites. It demanded “credible explanations” and full cooperation from Tehran.
The four sponsoring nations are also signatories of the JCPOA. China and Russia, two other participants of the landmark deal, reportedly voted against the draft document during the closed-door session last week.
The Iranian Foreign Ministry rejected the resolution, calling it a form of political pressure by the US and its allies. Spokesman Nasser Kanaani said on Monday that the country had taken “initial measures” in response to it on Sunday night.
“The implementation of these measures was realized today in the presence of IAEA inspectors in the Natanz and Fordo enrichment complexes,” the diplomat added, without specifying what had happened.
The JCPOA was meant to exchange an Iranian commitment to limit its nuclear program for relief of economic sanctions imposed on the country. The goal was to prolong the time Tehran would need to create a nuclear weapon, an ambition that Iran officially denies fostering in the first place.
The Trump administration unilaterally pulled out of the Iran Nuclear Deal as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran. President Joe Biden has been negotiating a possible revival of the JCPOA, but no breakthrough has been achieved so far.
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