Brussels (Brussels Morning) Iran has started using its advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility to increase its uranium enrichment, despite the ongoing talks in Vienna on reviving the 2015 nuclear treaty which placed limits on the country’s enriched uranium stockpiles.
The news of increased uranium enrichment was released on Wednesday by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s nuclear watchdog, which currently has limited access to Iranian nuclear facilities.
Iran stepping up its enrichment effort is boding ill for the ongoing talks to resurrect the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a treaty signed in 2015 between the US President Barack Obama and moderate Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, with other permanent members of UN Security Council and Germany acting as guarantors.
The treaty provided Tehran with relief from Western sanctions, while the country agreed to allow access to IAEA inspectors to its nuclear facilities and to observe strict limits on uranium enrichment and stockpiling intended to keep Iranian nuclear programme strictly civilian in nature.
As US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the treaty in 2018, reimposing sanctions on Iran, Tehran first waited for the other signatories to try and convince the US to return to the treaty. After a year of US sanctions, Iran engaged in progressive series of breaches of the treaty’s provisions, culminating in enriching uranium to as high as 60% concentration of U235 fissile isotope – theoretically high enough for construction of simpler nuclear weapons.
While US President Joe Biden signalled willingness for the US to return to the treaty, a change of regime in Iran led to a more adversarial approach to talks, with ultra-conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi elected new president in June this year.
The Vienna talks, stalled in June, have resumed this week after months of hiatus. The US and Israel have already voiced their concerns over Iran’s continued breaches, indirectly threatening to shut down Iranian nuclear programme by other means if negotiations fail.