In­spec­tors con­firm Iran tak­ing new nu­clear steps

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BERLIN — The United Na­tions’ atomic watch­dog con­firmed Mon­day that Iran is pre­par­ing to use more advanced cen­trifuges, another breach of limits set in the coun­try’s slowly un­rav­el­ing nu­clear deal with ma­jor pow­ers.

Iran had al­ready an­nounced the step, its lat­est vi­o­la­tion of the 2015 agree­ment, as it tries to pres­sure Euro­pean sig­na­to­ries to find a way to main­tain oil ship­ments and ease the toll of U.S. sanc­tions on the Ira­nian econ­omy.

The In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency re­ported its in­spec­tors ver­i­fied the in­stal­la­tion of new cen­trifuges. The agency said all had been “pre­pared for test­ing” but none yet tested at the time of the in­spec­tion Saturday and Sun­day.

Also Mon­day, Israel’s prime min­is­ter un­veiled what he said was a pre­vi­ously undis­closed Ira­nian nu­clear weapons site, fur­ther es­ca­lat­ing a showdown be­tween the two en­emy coun­tries.

Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s

an­nounce­ment came as he hopes the U.N. agency will take tougher ac­tion against Iran, and was also made in the fi­nal stages of Is­raeli na­tional elec­tions, draw­ing crit­i­cism from op­po­nents that the news con­fer­ence was a cam­paign stunt.

The nu­clear deal was meant to keep Tehran from build­ing atomic weapons — some­thing Iran de­nies it wants to do — in ex­change for eco­nomic in­cen­tives. Its col­lapse started with the United States uni­lat­er­ally with­draw­ing from the deal last year and im­pos­ing in­creased sanc­tions.

The other sig­na­to­ries — Britain, France, Ger­many, China, Rus­sia and the Euro­pean Union — have been strug­gling to sal­vage the agree­ment and find a way to meet Tehran’s de­mands.

To put pres­sure on them, Iran has al­ready pushed past limits in the deal, called the Joint Com­pre­hen­sive Plan of Ac­tion on nu­clear en­rich­ment pu­rity and stock­piles of en­riched ura­nium.

A cen­trifuge is a de­vice that en­riches ura­nium by rapidly spin­ning ura­nium hex­aflu­o­ride gas. The en­ergy agency said the ones its in­spec­tors saw in­cluded 30 advanced IR-6 and three IR-6s models, as well as mul­ti­ple IR-4 and IR-5 models.

Un­der the atomic ac­cord, Iran has been limited to op­er­at­ing 5,060 older-model IR-1 cen­trifuges.

Asked what the new cen­trifuges could mean to en­hance Iran’s abil­ity to enrich ura­nium, In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency Act­ing Di­rec­tor Gen­eral Cor­nel Feruta said “out­put is not a sim­ple mat­ter” but also it was “not for the agency to judge what th­ese ac­tions will bring.”

“We have made it very clear that the role of the agency is to re­port the facts to mem­bers of the JCPOA and also the board,” Feruta told re­porters in Vi­enna.

Rus­sia’s per­ma­nent representa­tive to in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions in Vi­enna, Mikhail Ulyanov, down­played the de­vel­op­ment, say­ing af­ter Iran revealed its step about cen­trifuges that the move “shouldn’t be over­dra­ma­tized.”

“Yes, it’s another de­vi­a­tion from JCPOA, but new ac­tiv­i­ties will re­main ver­i­fi­able by IAEA and re­versible,” he said in a tweet. “No pro­lif­er­a­tion threat, just a strong sig­nal that bal­ance within the JCPOA must be re­stored.”

CO­OP­ER­A­TION URGED

Feruta, who re­turned Sun­day night from Tehran, told the agency’s board in Vi­enna on Mon­day that in­spec­tors on the ground con­tinue “to ver­ify and mon­i­tor Iran’s nu­clear-re­lated com­mit­ments un­der the JCPOA.”

He said he em­pha­sized to Ira­nian au­thor­i­ties “the im­por­tance of full and timely co­op­er­a­tion by Iran.”

That mir­rored a line in a re­cent en­ergy agency re­port on Iran that sug­gested Tehran wasn’t as forth­com­ing with an­swer­ing questions as the agency hoped.

“I also stressed the need for Iran to re­spond promptly to agency questions re­lated to the com­plete­ness of Iran’s safe­guards dec­la­ra­tions,” Feruta said.

Feruta told re­porters the meet­ings had gone well, “cov­er­ing a full range of is­sues in our co­op­er­a­tion, and I was pleased with the tone and the in­put we re­ceived in those con­ver­sa­tions.”

Af­ter the re­port, China blamed the United States for the sit­u­a­tion and called for world pow­ers to stick to the 2015 deal with Tehran.

“The U.S. should aban­don wrong prac­tices such as uni­lat­eral sanc­tions and max­i­mum pres­sure on Iran,” For­eign Min­istry spokes­woman Hua Chun­y­ing said in Bei­jing.

French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron has been talk­ing both to Wash­ing­ton and Tehran about a pro­posal to cre­ate a $15 bil­lion line of credit for Iran to en­tice it to re­main in the nu­clear deal.

Ger­man For­eign Min­istry spokesman Rainer Breul told re­porters that Berlin sup­ports the French pres­i­dent’s ef­forts to re­sume talks and de-es­ca­late the sit­u­a­tion.

“There are con­fi­den­tial con­ver­sa­tions among the part­ners about the spe­cific de­tails,” Breul said. “Var­i­ous news re­ports are cir­cu­lat­ing that we won’t com­ment on fur­ther.”

He re­it­er­ated that Ger­many con­sid­ers Iran’s cen­trifuge plans “a step in the wrong di­rec­tion.”

“We call on Iran to meet its com­mit­ments un­der the JCPOA and to re­turn to them,” Breul said.

IS­RAELI CLAIM

Speak­ing to re­porters Mon­day, Ne­tanyahu said Israel dis­cov­ered the fa­cil­ity, lo­cated in the cen­tral Ira­nian town of Abadeh, by us­ing in­for­ma­tion gathered in a trove of doc­u­ments Is­raeli agents stole from an Ira­nian ware­house and made pub­lic early last year.

“Iran con­ducted ex­per­i­ments to de­velop nu­clear weapons,” Ne­tanyahu said.

He pro­vided no de­tails or evidence of what those ex­per­i­ments were, but he showed two satel­lite pho­tos. The first, taken in June, showed the fa­cil­ity in­tact. The sec­ond, taken in July, showed parts of the build­ing had been destroyed, in what he said was an Ira­nian cover-up af­ter Israel dis­cov­ered the fa­cil­ity. Abadeh is a small city fa­mous for its car­pets, lo­cated some 300 miles south­east of Tehran, Iran’s cap­i­tal.

Ne­tanyahu’s an­nounce­ment also pro­vided a dis­trac­tion from Israel’s heated elec­tion cam­paign. Israel is hold­ing a do-over elec­tion on Sept. 17 af­ter Ne­tanyahu failed to se­cure a par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity in April elec­tions.

Ne­tanyahu has tried to keep the cam­paign fo­cused on is­sues of na­tional se­cu­rity, con­sid­ered one of his strengths, and away from a loom­ing cor­rup­tion case against him.

One of his main ri­vals, Blue and White party can­di­date Yair Lapid, ac­cused Ne­tanyahu on Twitter of us­ing the Iran dis­clo­sure as “elec­tion pro­pa­ganda at the ex­pense of se­cu­rity.”

Feruta would not com­ment on a Saturday tweet by John Bolton, U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, that the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency in­formed its board that “Iran may be con­ceal­ing nu­clear ma­te­rial and/or ac­tiv­i­ties.”

“The eval­u­a­tions re­gard­ing the ab­sence of … nu­clear ma­te­rial and ac­tiv­ity in Iran re­main on­go­ing,” Feruta said.

AP/TSAFRIR ABAYOV

“Iran con­ducted ex­per­i­ments to de­velop nu­clear weapons,” Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu said dur­ing his news con­fer­ence Mon­day in Jerusalem.

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