Iran's latest move to increase uranium enrichment poses a nuclear proliferation risk, say the foreign ministers of the UK, France and Germany - the E3 countries. Meanwhile Iran’s ambassador to international organisations in Vienna has written to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), stressing the need for Israel's "prompt and unconditional" joining of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Kazem Gharibabadi, Iran's permanent representative to international organisations in Vienna (Image: IRNA)

Iran and the E3/EU+3 (China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK and the USA - also referred to as the P5+1 - plus the European Union) signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) in July 2015. Under its terms, Iran agreed to limit its uranium enrichment to 3.67% U-235. The USA withdrew from the JCPoA in May 2018 and re-imposed economic sanctions on Tehran.

"We are deeply concerned by the commencement by Iran on the 4th of January of uranium enrichment up to 20% at the underground facility of the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant," the E3 said in a joint statement. "This action, which has no credible civil justification and carries very significant proliferation-related risks, is in clear violation of Iran’s commitments under the JCPoA and further hollows out the Agreement."

It added: "This is a serious negative development which undermines the joint commitment of JCPoA participants on 21 December to preserve the JCPoA. It also risks compromising the important opportunity for a return to diplomacy with the incoming US Administration. We strongly urge Iran to stop enriching uranium to up to 20% without delay, reverse its enrichment programme to the limits agreed in the JCPoA and to refrain from any further escalatory steps which would further reduce the space for effective diplomacy."

The E3 remain in close contact with the other remaining JCPoA participants to assess how to best address Iran’s non-compliance within the framework of the agreement.

Ambassador Kazem Gharibabadi announced on Twitter yesterday that he had written to IAEA Director-General Rafael Mariano Grossi, warning him about Israel's "secret nuclear weapons programme".

"All in the West Asian region, except the Israeli regime, are parties to the NPT," Gharibabadi said, adding that "the development of a clandestine nuclear weapons programme by Israel continues to pose a serious threat not only to the security and stability of the region and the world but also to the effectiveness and efficiency of the NPT and the Agency's safeguards regime."

In November last year, the envoy criticised the E3 for simply expressing regret over Washington's pull-out from the JCPoA but taking no action.

An IAEA spokesperson told World Nuclear News today that Grossi has not issued a statement on either of Gharibabadi's letters - regarding the 20% increase or Israel.

"[Grossi] has informed IAEA Member States that Iran on 4 January began feeding uranium already enriched up to 4.1% U-235 into six centrifuge cascades at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant for further enrichment up to 20%," the spokesperson said. "IAEA inspectors were present at the site to detach the Agency’s seal from a cylinder with the feed material. The cylinder was then connected to the feeding line to start the production of uranium enriched up to 20%. The six cascades had been reconfigured as three sets of two interconnected cascades, comprising a total of 1044 IR-1 centrifuges. Iran had previously informed the Agency of its intention to start producing uranium enriched up to 20%."

The 4 January letter on the 20% increase has been published on the IAEA's website here.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News

Date: Friday, 08 January 2021
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