Iran announced, today, Monday, that it has resumed 20% uranium enrichment at the underground Fordo nuclear complex, and the European Union quickly condemned this step and saw it as a departure from the nuclear agreement, while Israel said that this shows Tehran’s intention to produce a nuclear weapon.
“A few minutes ago, the process of producing uranium enriched with 20% began at the Fordo enrichment complex,” Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabie said in a statement to the Iranian Mehr news agency.
“The process of injecting gas into the centrifuges began a few hours ago, and the first product of UF6 will be available within hours,” he said.
He pointed out that the process began after several measures were taken, such as reporting to the International Atomic Energy Agency of the United Nations.
Increasing the level of uranium enrichment is one of several steps included in a law passed by the Iranian parliament last month in response to the assassination of the country’s largest nuclear scientist, for which Tehran held Israel responsible.
It is believed that such Iranian steps may hinder the attempts of the US President-elect Joe Biden’s administration to re-join the nuclear deal, after the Donald Trump administration withdrew from it.
The main goal of the agreement is to extend the term that Iran needs to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb – if it so chooses – to at least a year instead of two or three months, and the agreement provides for the lifting of international sanctions on Tehran.
International inspectors are watching
For its part, the International Atomic Energy Agency said, after Tehran’s announcement, that the agency’s director is scheduled to brief members today, Monday, on developments in Iran.
A spokesman for the agency said that its inspectors “are monitoring activities at the Fordow fuel enrichment plant in Iran, and based on their information, the Director General, Rafael Mariano Grossi, is expected to present a report to the agency’s member states later today.”
The agency said on January 1 that Tehran had informed it that it had decided to resume enrichment of up to 20% at the Fordo site, which is located in the belly of a mountain.
Iran had earlier exceeded the maximum level of uranium purity stipulated in the agreement, which is 3.67%, and reached 4.5% as part of a series of measures to respond to Trump’s maximum pressure policy against Tehran, but it was far from the 20% degree, or the 90% degree. Needed to build nuclear weapons.
US intelligence agencies and the International Atomic Energy Agency believe that Iran had a secret and coordinated nuclear weapons program that it stopped in 2003, but Iran denies having a nuclear weapons program at all.
On the other hand, the European Union commented on Iran’s announcement today to raise the level of uranium enrichment, saying that this constitutes a major violation of the nuclear agreement.
As for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he issued a statement saying that this decision could only be interpreted as an attempt by Iran “to continue implementing its intention to develop a nuclear weapons program.”
“Israel will never allow Iran to produce nuclear weapons,” he added.
These developments come in light of tension in the Gulf and mutual warnings and accusations between the United States and Israel on the one hand, and Iran and its allies on the other hand, in the last days of the Trump administration.