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Iran opens new nuclear facility at Natanz

June 7, 2018

Iran is set to start producing new centrifuges for enriching uranium at its Natanz facility in a month's time. It said the move was not in violation of the 2015 nuclear deal European powers have been trying to salvage.

Iran - Natanz plant
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Iran's nuclear chief inaugurated a new facility to produce advanced centrifuges on Wednesday, as European powers struggle to save an international deal that has constrained Iran's nuclear enrichment program.

"We hope the facility to be completed in a month," Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said on state television, adding that work on the facility had begun before 2015.

The decision to start up the facility, which is located in the Natanz plant in central Iran, did not violate the 2015 nuclear deal — the agreement signed by Iran and six world powers that placed severe constraints on the country's enrichment program in exchange for the suspension of international sanctions.

Iran told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Tuesday that it would increase its nuclear enrichment capacity within the limits set out in the deal.

Read more: Khamenei's empty threats over the Iran nuclear deal

Infografik Iran's nuclear facilities covered under the nuclear deal Iran's nuclear facilities covered under the nuclear deal

Iranian signal

But it was Iran's latest signal that it would not bow to the United States, which has called for stronger constraints on the country's nuclear program since it withdrew from the agreement in May.

The move also increased pressure on the deal's three European signatories — the United Kingdom, France and Germany — who have been fighting to keep the deal alive in the wake of the US withdrawal. That task has proved increasingly difficult as European firms pull out of Iran amid concerns they could be targeted by US sanctions.

Meanwhile, Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Reza Najafi, has warned the country could restart unrestricted enrichment if European countries fail to keep the deal intact.

Read more: French carmaker PSA to stop Iran operations

'It is always dangerous to flirt with red lines'

"If in an unfortunate situation the [nuclear deal] fails, then Iran can restart its activities without any limits," Najafi said. "What I can say is right now, the negotiations at the expert level are continuing and we hope that it could reach some conclusion," he added.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian shot back against Iran's threat to enrich beyond the limits of the deal, saying: "It is always dangerous to flirt with the red lines."

Najafi also said Iran would not heed IAEA calls to cooperate more closely with nuclear inspectors. "But I should emphasize that it does not mean that right now Iran will restart any activities contrary to the [deal]," Najafi added. "These are only preparatory works."

amp/bw (AP, Reuters)

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