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UN: Iran increasing uranium enrichment purity, quantities

PTI Tehran | Updated on February 24, 2021

International inspections of its nuclear facilities being restricted

The UN's atomic watchdog says its inspectors have confirmed that Iran has started enriching uranium up to 20 per cent purity, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels. It's the latest in a string of violations of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

The International Atomic Energy Agency reported in a confidential document distributed to member countries and seen by The Associated Press Tuesday that as of February 16, Iran had added 17.6 kg (38.8 pounds) of uranium enriched to 20 per cent to its stockpile.

Overall, it increased its stockpile of enriched uranium to 2,967.8 kg (6,542.9 pounds), up from 2,442.9 kg (5,385.7 pounds) reported on November 2.

The nuclear deal signed in 2015 with the US, Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, allows Iran only to keep a stockpile of 202.8 kg (447 pounds). It also allows enrichment only up to 3.67 per cent.

Iran officially started restricting international inspections of its nuclear facilities, state TV reported on Tuesday, a bid to pressure European countries and US President Joe Biden's administration to lift crippling economic sanctions and restore the 2015 nuclear deal.

World powers slammed the restrictions as a “dangerous” move.

The state TV report gave little detail beyond confirming that Iran had made good on its threat to reduce cooperation with International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors.

Iran's move to limit international inspections underscores the daunting task facing Biden as he seeks to reverse former President Donald Trump's decision to pull the US unilaterally out of the deal in 2018, leaving Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia struggling to keep it alive.

The so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was the most significant pact between Iran and major world powers since its 1979 Islamic revolution, and Germany, France and Britain stressed their commitment Tuesday to preserving it, urging Iran to “stop and reverse all measures that reduce transparency.” “The E3 are united in underlining the dangerous nature of this decision,” the European powers said in a statement. “It will significantly constrain the IAEA's access to sites and to safeguards-relevant information.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said a new law had gone into effect Tuesday morning, under which Iran will no longer share surveillance footage of its nuclear facilities with the UN agency.

“We never gave them live video, but (recordings) were given daily and weekly,” Zarif said of the IAEA's access to information recorded by camera monitors. “The tape recording of our (nuclear) programme will be kept in Iran.” The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Tehran's civilian nuclear agency, has promised to preserve the tapes for three months, then hand them over to the IAEA — but only if granted sanctions relief. Otherwise, Iran has vowed to erase the tapes, narrowing the window for a diplomatic breakthrough.

Since Trump pulled the US. out of the JCPOA, Iran has gradually been violating its restrictions to put pressures on the remaining nations to come up with economic incentives to offset crippling American sanctions.

Among other things, the country has started enriching uranium up to 20 per cent purity, a technical step away from weapons-grade levels, and well above the purity allowed under the JCPOA. It has also been spinning advanced centrifuges, producing uranium metal and stockpiling more uranium than allowed.

Zarif stressed in a tweet on Tuesday that Iran's new limits on nuclear inspections and other violations of the pact are reversible, insisting that the US move first to revive the deal.

In a show of defiance, Cabinet spokesman Ali Rabiei outlined further developments in Iran's nuclear programme on Tuesday.

Over the last three weeks, he told presspersons, Iran has installed and started feeding gas into an additional 148 high-tech IR2-m centrifuges at its Natanz nuclear enrichment facility and its fortified nuclear complex at Fordo, bringing the total number of centrifuges to up to 492.

Another set of 492 centrifuges will be installed in the coming month, he said.

Published on February 24, 2021

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