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Iran resumes uranium enrichment at Fordow plant in new stepback from deal

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Iran resumed uranium enrichment at its underground Fordow plant south of Tehran Thursday in a new step back from its commitments under a landmark 2015 nuclear deal, raising alarm from Western powers.

Engineers began feeding uranium hexafluoride gas into the plant’s mothballed enrichment centrifuges in “the first minutes of Thursday”, the Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation said.

The suspension of uranium enrichment at the long-secret plant was one of the restrictions on its nuclear programme Iran had agreed to in return for the lifting of sanctions.

Iran’s announcement that it would resume enrichment at the Fordow plant from midnight (2030 GMT Wednesday) had drawn a chorus of concern from the remaining parties to the troubled agreement.

Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia have been trying to salvage the hard-won deal since Washington abandoned it in May last year and reimposed crippling unilateral sanctions.

They say Iran’s phased suspension of its obligations under the deal since May makes that more difficult.

The resumption of enrichment at Fordow is Iran’s fourth step away from the agreement.

The United States called for “serious steps” to be taken in response to the move.

“Iran’s expansion of proliferation-sensitive activities raises concerns that Iran is positioning itself to have the option of a rapid nuclear breakout,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

“It is now time for all nations to reject this regime’s nuclear extortion and take serious steps to increase pressure.”

Uranium enrichment is the sensitive process that produces fuel for nuclear power plants but also, in highly extended form, the fissile core for a warhead.

Iran is now enriching uranium to 4.5 percent, exceeding the 3.67 percent limit set by the 2015 deal but less than the 20 percent level it had previously operated to and far less than the 90 percent level required for a warhead.

– ‘Not acceptable’ –

Iran has always denied any military dimension to its nuclear programme.

It has been at pains to emphasise that all of the steps it has taken are transparent and swiftly reversible if the remaining parties to the agreement find a way to get around US sanctions.

“All these activities have been carried out under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency,” the Iranian nuclear organisation said.

Tehran said on Thursday that it had withdrawn the credentials of one IAEA inspector last week after she triggered an alarm at the gate to Iran’s other enrichment plant at Natanz, raising suspicion she was carrying a “suspect product”.

It did not specify what the product was or whether it had actually been found in the inspector’s possession.

After a special meeting on Iran held at the watchdog’s headquarters in Vienna, the EU said in a statement that it was “deeply concerned” by what took place, but understood “that the incident was resolved”.

Reiterating the EU’s “full confidence in the inspectorate’s professionalism and impartiality”, the statement called “upon Iran to ensure that IAEA inspectors can perform their duties in line with its legally binding safeguards agreement”.

The IAEA meanwhile complained that the inspector had last week been briefly prevented from leaving Iran.

Cornel Feruta, the watchdog’s Acting Director General, “informed the… Board of Governors that an Agency inspector was last week temporarily prevented from leaving Iran”, a statement by the agency said.

“Preventing an inspector from leaving a country, particularly when instructed to do so by the Agency, is not acceptable and should not occur,” Feruta said.

– ‘Grave’ decisions –

The resumption of enrichment at Fordow comes after the expiry of a deadline Tehran set for the remaining parties to the nuclear agreement to come up with a mechanism that would allow foreign firms to continue doing business with Iran without incurring US penalties.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed concern about Tehran’s announcements but said European powers should do their part.

“They are demanding that Iran fulfil all (obligations) without exception but are not giving anything in return,” he told reporters in Moscow.

The Kremlin has previously called sanctions against Iran “unprecedented and illegal”.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Iran had made “grave” decisions and its resumption of uranium enrichment was a “profound change” from Tehran’s previous position.

The next few weeks will be dedicated to increasing pressure on Iran to return within the framework of the pact, the French president said during a trip to Beijing, adding that this must be “accompanied by an easing of some sanctions“.

“A return to normal can only take place if the United States and Iran agree to reopen a sort of trust agenda” and dialogue, Macron said, adding that he would discuss the issue with US President Donald Trump.

What is left of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal?
Tehran (AFP) Nov 7, 2019 -
Iran resumed uranium enrichment at its Fordow plant on Thursday, in the fourth step back from its commitments under the landmark 2015 nuclear deal.

How did this come about and what is left of the troubled agreement?

Here is a look back at the accord and the setbacks since:

– Diplomatic success –

The Iran nuclear deal is agreed on July 14, 2015, in Vienna between Tehran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) plus Germany.

On July 20, 2015, UNSC resolution 2231 endorses the deal, which aims to end 12 years of crisis around Iran’s nuclear programme.

The preamble of the deal notes that Tehran “reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons”.

Iran agrees to demonstrate the exclusively civilian nature of its programme by drastically reducing its nuclear activities.

It also agrees to submit to the strictest inspection regime ever developed by the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In exchange, crippling economic sanctions on Iran are to be lifted.

– US withdrawal –

On May 8, 2018, US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdraws from the agreement, which was reached under his predecessor Barack Obama.

In August, the United States reactivates sanctions that had been lifted as part of the accord.

Washington then repeatedly strengthens and extends sanctions to force Tehran to agree to a new deal offering “better guarantees”.

The reimposition of sanctions deprives Tehran of the economic benefits it had expected from the deal.

The Iranian economy sinks into a deep recession.

– Iran’s response –

On May 8, 2019, Tehran announces that it is progressively reducing its commitments made in Vienna to pressure the remaining parties to the deal to keep their promises to help Iran bypass US sanctions.

The Islamic republic announces that if its demands are not met, it will abandon new provisions of the agreement every 60 days.

The fourth phase of Iran’s “commitment reduction plan” is launched on Tuesday.

– What commitments has Iran renounced? –

Iran no longer respects the 300 kilogramme limit that the deal imposed on its stocks of enriched uranium. It has also abandoned the cap on enriching uranium above 3.67 percent.

Since September, Iran has produced enriched uranium at its plant in Natanz using centrifuges banned by the accord.

The deal allows for a limited number of first generation IR-1 centrifuges, but Iran is now using more modern machines.

Moving away from the research and development provisions of the agreement, Iran has also begun testing even more advanced centrifuges.

On Tuesday, Tehran announces uranium enrichment will be restarted at its underground Fordow facility in central Iran, which the deal banned.

Uranium enrichment resumes at the plant just after midnight on Thursday (2030 GMT Wednesday).

Iran had announced in May that it no longer felt bound by the agreement’s 1.3 tonne limit on heavy water reserves, but it has not yet exceeded this threshold.

– Is Iran violating the agreement? –

The US says Iran is violating the agreement, which Tehran denies.

Iran criticises its partners for not making “every effort” (as required by article 28) to enable the full implementation of the agreement.

Tehran says it is acting under articles 26 and 36, which allow it to suspend its commitments “in whole or in part” if its partners fail to meet their obligations.

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday that Iran had “decided to leave the framework” of the agreement by its decisions on Tuesday.

– What is left of the agreement? –

A key element of the deal still in force is the IAEA inspections regime.

Provisions concerning the Arak reactor, 240 kilometres (150 miles) southwest of Tehran, are still in force. Foreign experts are supposed to help convert it into a research facility incapable of producing plutonium for military use.

The five states still party to the accord all say they want to save the deal, even though they agree it is becoming harder by the day.

Finally, Iran is far from having returned to its pre-agreement behaviour.

It still limits uranium enrichment to 4.5 percent, below its previous 20 percent threshold and far below the 90 percent needed for a nuclear weapon.

And the total installed capacity of Iranian centrifuges remains officially lower than it was before the agreement was reached.

Unravelling of the Iran nuclear deal: a timeline
Paris (AFP) Nov 7, 2019 -
Iran on Thursday took further steps away from its commitments under a landmark 2015 deal to limit its nuclear development, resuming uranium enrichment after cancelling the accreditation of an international inspector.

The hard-won accord started unravelling 18 months ago when the United States pulled out, having been instrumental in the 21 months of negotiations it took to conclude the deal between Iran and major powers.

Iran has said all its steps are transparent and reversible if the remaining parties to the agreement find a way to bypass US sanctions.

Here is a timeline:

– US quits –

On May 8, 2018, President Donald Trump announces the United States will quit the 2015 pact and reinstate sanctions against Iran and companies with ties to it.

“We cannot prevent an Iranian nuclear bomb under the decaying and rotten structure of the current agreement,” he says.

Iran has always denied its nuclear programme has any military dimension.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says he is ready to discuss with the remaining parties — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — ways to save the deal.

– US sanctions

In late May, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo outlines 12 tough conditions from Washington for any “new deal”. They include new nuclear commitments and a full scaling-back of Iran’s regional role.

In August and November, Washington reimposes sanctions, particularly targeting Iran’s oil and finance sectors.

Major international firms halt their activities or projects in Iran.

Trump in May 2019 annuls sanctions exemptions enjoyed by eight countries on Iranian oil imports.

– Iran starts walkback –

A year after the US pullout, Iran on May 8, 2019 announces its first step back from the deal, saying it will suspend commitments on limiting the amount of heavy water and enriched uranium it possesses.

Trump announces new measures against Iran’s steel and mining sectors.

On July 1, Iran says it has exceeded the 300-kilogramme limit on its enriched uranium reserves.

On the 7, it confirms it has also breached the accord’s uranium enrichment cap of 3.67 percent.

It threatens to abandon more commitments after 60 days.

A day later, it says it has enriched uranium to 4.5 percent.

– ‘Highest sanctions‘ –

Trump says on August 26 he would be prepared to meet Rouhani “if the circumstances were correct”.

The Iranian leader tells Washington to “take the first step” by lifting all sanctions.

On September 4, Rouhani plays down efforts for a diplomatic solution and lifts all limits on nuclear research and development in a new scaling-down of Iran’s 2015 commitments.

Tensions soar after a wave of aerial attacks on September 14 on two major Saudi oil facilities, blamed on Tehran. It denies involvement.

On September 20, Trump announces new sanctions on Iran’s central bank, calling them “the highest sanctions ever imposed on a country”.

– Iran takes more steps –

On September 26, the IAEA nuclear watchdog says Iran has started using advanced centrifuges to enrich uranium.

On November 4, Tehran says its enrichment has reached five kilogrammes per day, more than a tenfold increase, and announces it has developed two new advanced centrifuges.

That comes after the expiry of a deadline Tehran had set for the remaining parties to the nuclear deal to create a mechanism for foreign firms do business with it to bypass US penalties.

The following day, Rouhani announces the resumption of uranium enrichment at the underground Fordow plant — its fourth walkback from the accord — at midnight November 6.

There is a chorus of concern from the remaining parties to the agreement.

On November 7, Iran says it has cancelled the accreditation of an IAEA inspector, who had already left the country.

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Iran says to start enriching uranium at midnight

Tehran (AFP) Nov 6, 2019

Iran announced Wednesday another step towards reducing its obligations under the 2015 nuclear deal, sparking concern by some of the remaining parties to the troubled agreement.

Iran’s atomic energy agency said its Fordow plant would begin enriching uranium from midnight (2030 GMT).

“In the coming hours, the process of injecting (uranium hexafluoride) gas into the centrifuges at the Fordow site will be finalised,” said agency spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi, quoted in the semi-official news agency I … read more

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