Iran starts enriching uranium at Fordow amid reports UN nuclear inspector detained

In this Jan. 13, 2015, file photo released by the Iranian President's Office, President Hassan Rouhani visits the Bushehr nuclear power plant just outside of Bushehr, Iran. (AP)
Updated 09 November 2019

Iran starts enriching uranium at Fordow amid reports UN nuclear inspector detained

  • Tasnim news agency said uranium gas had been injected into centrifuges
  • Move is a further step away from the 2015 nuclear deal signed with world powers

VIENNA: Iran resumed uranium enrichment at its underground Fordow nuclear facility by injecting uranium gas into centrifuges, Iran's Tasnim news agency quoted the country's Atomic Energy Organisation (AEOI) as saying on Thursday.
"After all successful preparations ... injection of uranium gas to centrifuges started on Thursday at Fordow ... all the process has been supervised by the inspectors of (the) UN nuclear watchdog," Tasnim reported, quoting the AEOI's statement.
A 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major powers bans Fordow from producing nuclear material. But, with feedstock gas entering its centrifuges, the facility - built inside a mountain - will move from the permitted status of research plant to being an active nuclear site. "The process will take a few hours to stabilize and by Saturday, when International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors will again visit the site, a uranium enrichment level of 4.5% will have been achieved," AEOI's spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told state TV. Ninety percent purity is required for bomb-grade fuel.
Iran has gradually scaled back its commitments to the deal, under which it curbed its nuclear programme in exchange for the removal of most international sanctions, after the United States reneged on the agreement last year.
Under the pact, Iran agreed to turn Fordow into a "nuclear, physics and technology centre" where 1,044 centrifuges are used for purposes other than enrichment, such as producing stable isotopes, which have a variety of civil uses.
"All the centrifuges installed in Fordow are IR1 types. Uranium gas (UF6) was injected to four chains of IR1 centrifuges (696 centrifuges)," Kamalvandi said.
"Two other remaining chains of IR1 centrifuges (348 centrifuges) will be used for producing and enriching stable isotopes in the facility."
US President Donald Trump exited the deal, saying it was flawed to Iran's advantage. Washington has since renewed and intensified sanctions on Iran, slashing the country's economically vital crude oil sales by more than 80 percent.
The measure will further complicate the chances of saving the accord, which European powers have called on Iran to respect.
Responding to Washington’s "maximum pressure" policy, Iran has bypassed the restrictions of the deal step-by-step - including by breaching both its cap on stockpiled enriched uranium and on the fissile level of enrichment. 

Earlier, it emerged that Iran briefly held an inspector for the IAEA and seized her travel documents, diplomats familiar with the agency's work said on Wednesday, some describing it as harassment.

The incident appears to be the first of its kind since Tehran's landmark deal with major powers was struck in 2015.

The issue is due to be discussed at a meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation Board of Governors on Thursday convened at short notice to discuss "two safeguards matters" not specified in the agenda, which was circulated on Monday.
"The agency wants to show how seriously they are taking this. It is a potentially damaging precedent," one Western official said.
Three diplomats familiar with the agency's work said the female inspector had her travel documents taken, and two said she was briefly held while working in Iran.
One of the diplomats said the incident occurred at Iran's enrichment site at Natanz last week. Another one also said the incident took place at Natanz.
"There is a real concern that it will harm how (the IAEA) carry out their inspections in the future," a European diplomat said.
The nuclear deal, which the IAEA is policing, allows for 130-150 inspectors from the agency designated for Iran.
 


Rockets hit Iraq base hosting US troops, stoking concerns

Updated 21 min 9 sec ago

Rockets hit Iraq base hosting US troops, stoking concerns

  • Security sources said they believed Kataib Hezbollah was responsible
  • More than a dozen rockets hit the Qayyarah airbase in northern Iraq last month

BAGHDAD: Two rockets hit the Al-Balad air base, north of Baghdad, late Thursday, Iraqi security forces said, the latest in a flurry of attacks on bases hosting US troops that has alarmed US officials.
It came as Washington considers deploying between 5,000 and 7,000 fresh troops to the Middle East to counter its arch-foe Iran, a US official told AFP.
Thursday’s attack with Katyusha rockets did not cause any casualties or material damage but “came close,” a US official told AFP.
Washington has been concerned by a recent spate of attacks on Iraqi bases where some 5,200 US troops are deployed to help Iraqi forces ensure militants do not regroup.
The attacks, targeting either bases or the US embassy in Baghdad, have averaged more than one per week over the past six weeks.
“There is a spike in rocket attacks,” a second US official said, adding that although they had caused no US casualties and little damage, they were increasingly worrying.
Five rockets hit Al-Asad airbase on December 3, just four days after Vice President Mike Pence visited troops there.
Security sources said they believed Kataib Hezbollah, a powerful Shiite faction close to Tehran and blacklisted by Washington, was responsible.
More than a dozen rockets hit the Qayyarah airbase in northern Iraq last month, one of the largest attacks in recent months to hit an area where US troops are based.
There has been no claim of responsibility for the attacks and Washington has not blamed any particular faction.
But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has blamed similar attacks on Iran-aligned groups.
Iran holds vast sway in Iraq, especially among the more hard-line elements of the Hashed Al-Shaabi, a paramilitary force largely made up of Shiite militias backed by Tehran.
Asked whether the repeated rocket attacks made the Hashed a bigger threat to US troops than the Daesh group, the official agreed.
“It is. The question is, when is someone going to call BS?” he said.
Multiple US diplomatic and military sources have told AFP of their growing frustration with such attacks.
They say they are relying on their Iraqi partners to play a “de-conflicting” role between them and the Hashed to prevent any clashes.
That is a complicated task, as the Hashed has been ordered to integrate with the regular security forces but many of its fighters continue to operate with some independence.
“We all recognize the danger out here. Sometimes our Iraqi partners say, well what can I do?” the official said.
Tensions between Iran and the United States have soared since the Washington pulled out of a landmark nuclear agreement with Tehran last year and reimposed crippling sanctions.
Baghdad — which is close to both countries and whose many security forces have been trained by either the US or Iran — is worried about being caught in the middle.