Iran has started producing enriched uranium with more advanced centrifuges, the UN atomic watchdog said, raising a new concern for negotiators on the third day of renewed talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on December 1 said in a report that Iran had started the process of enriching uranium to up to 20 percent purity with more advanced machines at its Fordow fuel enrichment plant.

The report said IAEA inspectors visited the underground nuclear facility on November 30 and reported that steps had been taken there to enrich uranium using high-efficiency centrifuges. The IAEA now plans to increase the frequency of its inspections at the Fordow plant.

“The agency has decided and Iran has agreed to increase the frequency of verification activities at [Fordow] and will continue consultations with Iran on practical arrangements to facilitate implementation of these activities,” the report said.

The 2015 nuclear deal does not allow Iran to enrich uranium at Fordow at all.

Iran’s permanent mission to the IAEA in Vienna played down the report, saying on Twitter it was “an ordinary update in line with regular verification in Iran.”

Iran confirmed that 20 percent uranium enrichment had begun at Fordow, but Mohammed-Resa Ghalebi, executive director of Iran’s IAEA mission in Vienna, said it was for producing hexafluoride and served peaceful purposes.

The development appears to further erode the nuclear deal even as direct talks between Iran and Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia to revive the pact were taking place in Vienna. The United States is participating in the talks indirectly because Iran refuses to meet face to face with U.S. envoys.

Western negotiators fear Iran is taking actions to gain leverage in the talks, and IAEA Director-General Rafael Grossi made clear he viewed the development with concern.

“This redoubles the alert. It is not banal. Iran can do it, but if you have such an ambition you need to accept inspections. It’s necessary,” Grossi told French broadcaster France-24.

The indirect talks between Tehran and Washington — with other negotiators shuttling between them — have made no apparent progress since they resumed on November 29.

The deal limited Tehran’s nuclear activities in return for the lifting of sanctions, while opening it to greater scrutiny from the IAEA. But Iran has gradually breached limits imposed by the accord since then-President Donald Trump pulled the United States out in 2018.

U.S. President Joe Biden has pledged to rejoin the deal if Iran returns to full compliance, but Tehran wants Washington to make the first move.

Source » rferl