EU waits for confirmation of Iran’s announcement to step up enrichment

EU waits for confirmation of Iran’s announcement to step up enrichment
Former High Representative Federica Mogherini with Iranian foreign minister Muhammed Javal Zarif at a visit in Teheran in the past. Credit: EU

While the world is hoping for a better new year, Iran announced today that it has started enriching uranium up to 20 % at a underground facility, dangerously close to weapon-grade uranium.

The announcement was made by an Iranian government spokesperson and follows its official notification on New Year’s Day to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“Iran has informed the Agency that in order to comply with a legal act recently passed by the country’s parliament, the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran intends to produce low-enriched uranium (LEU) up to 20 percent at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant,” the IAEA said in a statement.

It would be the highest enrichment grade since 2015 when Iran signed the nuclear deal, or The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), with the EU and other world powers. The deal capped its enrichment to 3.67 % for peaceful objectives. In 2018, the Trump administration unilaterally cancelled the deal.

Since then, the EU and the three EU signatories to it (France, Germany and the UK) have tried to keep the deal on life support.

The Iranian announcement coincides with the anniversary of the US assassination of General Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad. Soleimani was a commander in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and is believed to have been the master-mind behind Iran’s destabilising activities in the region.

"Iran's decision to continue violating its commitments, to raise the enrichment level and advance the industrial ability to enrich uranium underground, cannot be explained in any way except as the continued realization of its intention to develop a military nuclear program,” commented Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Israel will not allow Iran to manufacture nuclear weapons."

Asked at the Commission’s press conference today, the first one after the holiday break, if the Iranian announcement spelled the end of the nuclear deal, a spokesperson replied that it had taken note of the announcement.

If the announcement is true, it would be a considerable departure from Iran’s commitments under the nuclear deal, which EU still thinks can be safeguarded, and lead to serious consequences, according to Peter Stano, lead spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policiy.

At the time of the press conference, IAEA had not yet confirmed that Iran has stepped up its enrichment programme. “Our assessment is based on actions that Iran has in fact taken as confirmed by IAEA,” he added. EU prefers to wait until such a confirmation before it decides on what to do but that may be only a matter of time.

Anyway, the EU is facing a dilemma if it wants to save the nuclear deal and induce all signatories to respect it. The new Biden administration aims at returning the US to the deal but will also insist on closing the loopholes that were ignored by the EU in the first deal, such as its sun-set clauses and Iran’s continued destabilising activities in the region, including its existential threats against Israel.

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

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