Iran expanding nuclear work, switching off cameras amid IAEA censure

·3-min read
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, in Vienna

By Francois Murphy

VIENNA/DUBAI (Reuters) -Iran has begun further expanding its underground uranium enrichment and said on Wednesday it would switch off two of the U.N. nuclear watchdog's cameras, as the watchdog's 35-nation board overwhelmingly passed a resolution criticising Tehran.

Only Russia and China opposed the resolution submitted by the United States, Germany, France and Britain saying the Board of Governors "expresses profound concern" that uranium traces found at three undeclared sites remain unexplained due to insufficient cooperation by Iran. It also calls on Tehran to engage with the watchdog "without delay".

Iran bristles at such resolutions and had warned beforehand of retaliation, raising the prospect of further damage to already stalled talks on reviving the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Just hours before the closed-door vote at the International Atomic Energy Agency's headquarters, Iran announced a move that diplomats said was most likely either a shot across the bows before more drastic action or a limited early retaliation.

"So far, the IAEA has not only been ungrateful for Iran's extensive cooperation but has also considered it as a duty. From today, relevant authorities have ordered that surveillance cameras of the Online Enrichment Monitor (OLEM) be shut down," Iranian state TV said, referring to cameras trained on a machine that measures enrichment levels in real time.

The IAEA has, however, not had access to the data collected by such cameras or the OLEM for more than a year. The agency hopes it will gain access to that data, which remains with Iran, at a later date.

One European diplomat said the move was "a relatively modest escalation in the grand scheme of things but perhaps an initial warning shot in advance of the resolution being adopted".

ADVANCED CENTRIFUGES

Later the IAEA informed member states in a report seen by Reuters that Iran had started installing a cascade, or cluster, of advanced IR-6 centrifuges at its underground enrichment plant at Natanz, a longstanding plan it had not acted on for months.

Iran has now also told the agency it plans to install two more such cascades of the uranium-enriching machines, which are much more effective than first-generation IR-1 centrifuges, the only ones the 2015 deal allows Iran to enrich with at the Natanz plant.

"Sadly some Board members don't get the sensitivity of the moment, pushing for untimely initiatives like anti-#Iran resolution. Clearly #ViennaTalks taught them nothing: pressuring Tehran entails escalation," Russia's mission to the IAEA tweeted before the vote.

Since Washington withdrew from the 2015 deal in 2018 under then-President Donald Trump and reimposed sanctions, Tehran has breached many of the deal's restrictions on its nuclear activities, including enrichment. It is enriching to up to 60% purity, close to the roughly 90% of weapons-grade.

Iran says its nuclear aims are wholly peaceful.

"We are not taking this action to escalate a confrontation for political purposes. We seek no such escalation," a U.S. statement to the board said, adding that Iran removing cameras would be "extremely regrettable and counterproductive to the diplomatic outcome we seek".

(Additiona reprting by Dubai Newsroom; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Mark Potter Editing by Alex Richardson)

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