Iran ramps up uranium production after censures by IAEA nuclear watchdog agency

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Nov. 22 (UPI) — Iran said Tuesday that it is ramping up production of enriched uranium at two state nuclear facilities in response to a reprimand that was passed last week by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran said Tuesday that it has increased uranium enrichment at the Fordow nuclear plant in Qom to 60% purity, while also boosting fuel supply to the centrifuges at its Natanz nuclear plant in Isfahan, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

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Recent activities at Natanz indicated ongoing enrichment after the plant reached 60% uranium enrichment in April last year, according to the IAEA. Since then, new equipment and infrastructure have led to more efficient uranium production and increased stockpiles.

Tehran’s current enrichment levels do not meet the level of 90% uranium purity — the threshold of a nuclear bomb — but 60% purity levels were exponentially higher than the 3.67% spelled out in the landmark 2015 deal with world powers, which was meant to check Iran’s atomic capabilities in exchange for lifting sanctions.

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But that hasn’t happened.

The censure resolution, approved Thursday by the IAEA’s board of governors, adds pressure on Tehran to cooperate with an ongoing investigation into its nuclear activities following months of noncompliance with a 2015 nuclear agreement in which Tehran promised to reduce its capacity.

It was the second passed by the nuclear watchdog agency in six months due to Iran’s lack of cooperation with international monitors.

The IAEA also sought to resolve a case from 2018 in which evidence of robust nuclear activity was found at several sites that should have been restricted or dormant.

That same year, then-President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — put in place during the Obama administration — and reimposed tough sanctions on Tehran that remain in place today.

Last week, the United States imposed fresh sanctions on Iran as the Biden administration seeks to punish the Middle Eastern country over its attempts to evade sanctions and its ongoing crackdown on anti-government protesters.

Iran said it took steps to respond to last Thursday’s resolution from the IAEA’s 35-member board, but foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani offered no specifics while blasting the censure resolution as a “political move.”

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The United States joined Great Britain, Germany and France in introducing the resolutions, which were approved in a majority vote.

Notably, the censure threatened to take the case of Iran’s noncooperation before the United Nations Security Council.

Tehran immediately disputed the findings, saying it has been seeking talks and that the IAEA issued the resolution based on false information from Israel, its main adversary in the region.

But when IAEA issued its previous censure in June, Iran allegedly responded by disabling video cameras that had been installed to keep an eye on activities inside various facilities.

Such disputes between Iran and the international community have been ongoing for months, with the latest rift raising the diplomatic stakes even further as IAEA negotiators were hoping for another sit-down with Tehran’s leadership before the end of November. Meanwhile, Iran’s nuclear chief Mohammad Eslami appeared to close the door on the talks, saying the meeting was a moot point following last week’s censure.

Tehran has called on the IAEA to shut down its investigation in exchange for an agreement to restore the terms of the nuclear deal.

In response to the announcement Tuesday, Britain, France and Germany issued a statement of condemnation against Tehran’s expansion of its nuclear program, accusing the Islamic Republic of further “hollowing out the JCPOA.”

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“Iran’s step is a challenge to the global non-proliferation systems,” the ally nations said. “This step, which carries significant proliferation-related risks, has no credible civilian justification.”

The Western nations also chastised Iran over its use of the IAEA’s censure as motive, calling it “unacceptable” while reminding Tehran that it is legally obligated under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to fully implement its safeguards agreement.

“We will continue to consult, alongside international partners, on how best to address Iran’s continued nuclear escalation,” they said.