What happened: The UK and other signatories to the JCPOA nuclear agreement have condemned Iran’s latest announcement that it will restarting uranium enrichment at its underground Fordow facility and test advanced centrifuges, in clear violation of the accord.
- UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: “Iran’s latest actions clearly contravene the deal and pose a risk to our national security. We want to find a way forward through constructive international dialogue but Iran needs to stand by the commitments it made and urgently return to full compliance.”
- The US accused Iran of “nuclear extortion” for expanding its uranium enrichment programme and vowed to “continue to impose maximum pressure on the regime until it abandons its destabilising behaviour, including proliferation-sensitive work”.
- The French Foreign Ministry said: “The announcements by Iran … go against the Vienna. We urge Iran to go back on its decisions which contradict the accord.”
- German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned that Iran would “endanger the deal in its entirety” if it took any further steps away from the deal.
- The EU spokeswoman, Maja Kocijancic, said: “We urge Iran to reverse all activities that are inconsistent with its commitments under the JCPOA and to refrain from any further measures that would undermine the preservation and full implementation of the nuclear deal.” Kocijancic said the EU remained committed to the deal but warned this depended on “full compliance” from Iran. She added: “High Representative Federica Mogherini said herself recently it is becoming increasingly difficult to preserve the JCPOA.”
- President Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Russia is “monitoring the development of the situation with concern”. Whilst he said Moscow supports the preservation of the deal, it also understood Tehran’s concerns over the “unprecedented and illegal sanctions” imposed by the US.
Context: Yesterday President Hassan Rouhani said that from today Iran would begin injecting uranium hexafluoride gas into the, up-to-now, dormant 1,044 centrifuges at the Fordow facility.
- The Fordow facility, which is specifically mentioned in the JCPOA, is a sensitive issue in the Iranian nuclear programme. Fordow was used by Iran in the past to enrich uranium up to 20 per cent purity, a key milestone for states that want to produce 95 per cent enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb.
- The Fordow facility is located deep underground and any attempt to prevent large-scale uranium enrichment at the site would be much less likely to succeed. The discovery of the secret Fordow site by Western intelligence in 2009 was crucial in building international support for multilateral sanctions on Iran’s regime.
- The announcement by Iran is also a rebuke to the Trump administration’s decision last week to extend sanction waivers that allow foreign companies to work with Iran to make the Fordow facility and the country’s plutonium reactor at Arak less proliferation-sensitive.
Looking ahead: The decision to restart centrifuges at Fordow only marginally increases Iran’s rate of enriched uranium production. Yet, the use of the Fordow facility is particularly troubling given it location deep underground.
- Next Monday EU foreign ministers will meet and they could decide, for the first time, to trigger the dispute mechanism built within the JCPOA agreement that could lead within a couple of months to the formal unravelling of the accord and the re-imposition of multilateral sanctions on Iran.