Iran announced on Saturday that it had launched a new chain of advanced nuclear centrifuges enabling it to enrich uranium at a faster pace.
The announcement comes as discussions continue in Vienna between the Islamic Republic and other parties to the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement – Britain, China, France and Russia – on how to reintegrate the United States into the pact.
On Friday, a U.S. official said on condition of anonymity that Washington had indirectly made “very serious” proposals to Iran to relaunch the accord and that the U.S. expected a certain reciprocity from the Islamic Republic.
The measures annonced with fanfare on Saturday by the Iranian government do not go in that direction.
Iranian President Hassan Rohani officially launched a line of 164 IR-6 centrifuges and another 30 IR-5 ones installed at the Natanz nuclear complex in central Iran at a videoconference relayed by State television. No footage was shown of the launch on TV, but white coated engineers confirmed via a two-way link that the centrifuges had been commissioned.
The Vienna Agreement had been in jeopardy ever since the United States, under Donald Trump, unilaterally pulled out in 2018 and reimposed a wave of economic and financial sanctions against Iran. This prompted Tehran to begin shrugging off its commitments in May 2019 and it has continued to do so at a faster rate in recent months.
U.S. President Joe Biden has said that he is willing to rejoin the agreement and lift US sanctions after negotiations.
Tehran, for its part, says it is ready to return to the full application of the text, on condition that the United States lifts all sanctions reimposed or introduced against Iran since 2018.
Tehran also refuses, at this stage, to hold direct talks with the United States.
IR-5 and IR-6 centrifuges make it possible to enrich uranium at a faster pace and in greater quantities than the IR-1 “first generation” centrifuges, the only ones the Vienna agreement allows Iran to use.
President Rohani repeated at Saturday’s ceremony, organised on the “National Day of Nuclear Technology” that his country’s nuclear programme was purely peaceful.
Thus far, discussions this week in Vienna between Iran and its partners on a relaunch of the agreement have been described as “productive” by the EU, which is coordinating them.
According to Russia, diplomats from countries still party to the Vienna Agreement will meet again next week in the Austrian capital in order to “keep up the positive dynamic.”
That meeting should be held on Wednesday at the Deputy Foreign Minister level, Iranian sources said.