The International Atomic and Energy Agency (IAEA) is likely to report next week that Iran has expanded its uranium enrichment capability at its Fordow facility, according to US officials and others briefed on IAEA findings. The expanded enrichment capability could shorten the time Iran would need to build a nuclear weapon.
“My understanding is that work at the Fordow facility has been dramatically intensified,” Ray Takeyh said, an Iran expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, to the Los Angeles Times. ”There are now 1,500 centrifuges completed, up from 700,” he added, although the new centrifuges are not believed to be working yet.
The Fordow facility, built into the mountains near the Iranian city of Qom, was secretly built deep underground to withstand an airstrike. Iran acknowledged its existence in 2009 after it was discovered by US intelligence.
The announcement of increased enrichment capabilities at Fordow is likely to heighten concern in Israel, whose leaders have said Iran is approaching a “zone of immunity” – the point at which Tehran’s nuclear programme could no longer be significantly hampered by an Israeli strike.
In another development likely to cause concern in the West, satellite imagery has indicated that Iran is covering a building at a military site, which IAEA inspectors want to visit, with a brightly coloured tent-like structure. Western diplomats have said they believe Iran is cleansing the Parchin complex to remove evidence of illicit nuclear activity. The IAEA also suspect Iran has conducted tests at the site which have a nuclear military dimension.
In talks beginning today with Iran the IAEA will press Tehran for access to Parchin as part of its long-stalled probe into suspected nuclear weapons research in the Islamic Republic, even though yesterday the agency’s head conceded that the alleged sanitisation would hamper its probe.
Today’s IAEA-Iran meeting in Vienna is the first since previous discussions ended in failure in June. The talks are separate from Tehran’s negotiations with world powers that have made little headway since they resumed in April after a 15-month hiatus, but the focus on suspicions over Iran’s nuclear ambitions mean they are closely linked.