Britain, France and Germany condemn Iran for accelerating uranium enrichment

Iran has begun feeding uranium into three cascades of advanced centrifuges at its Natanz nuclear facility, the IAEA said
Iran has begun feeding uranium into three cascades of advanced centrifuges at its Natanz nuclear facility, the IAEA said - Maxar Technologies/AFP

Britain, France and Germany have condemned Iran for accelerating its enrichment of uranium, which is just short of weapons grade, to “further expand its nuclear programme”.

The United Nations atomic watchdog said Tehran was strengthening enrichment facilities at two sites, and plans to install others in the coming weeks.

In a joint statement, Britain, France and Germany warned the moves undermined the 2015 deal which offered Iran relief from Western sanctions in return for tight limits to its stockpile of enriched uranium.

“These measures will again increase Iran’s stock of enriched uranium and enrichment capacity, whose levels have already surpassed the limits set” by the 2015 deal, the three allies said on Saturday.

The agreement effectively collapsed after Donald Trump withdrew the US from the accord in 2018.

Tehran has pursued nuclear enrichment just below weapons-grade levels ever since, although US intelligence agencies believe it has yet to begin a weapons programme.

However, the Islamic Republic already has enough material to build several atomic bombs should it choose to pursue them, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Donald Trump withdrew US support for the Iran nuclear deal in 2018
Donald Trump withdrew US support for the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 - Saul Loeb/AFP

The Islamic Republic’s latest strengthening of enrichment sites comes after Britain, France and Germany tabled a resolution at an IAEA board of governors meeting criticising its lack of cooperation with the UN nuclear watchdog.

Iran condemned the resolution as “hasty and unwise”. It denies seeking to develop a nuclear weapon, saying its atomic programme is for peaceful and civilian purposes.

Germany, France and Britain said it was unacceptable that Iran presented its latest measures as a reaction to the resolution.

“Iran is legally obliged under the Non-Proliferation Treaty to fully implement its safeguards agreement, which is separate” to the 2015 deal, the countries said.

Iran has begun feeding uranium into three cascades of advanced IR-4 and IR-6 centrifuges at its Natanz enrichment facility, the IAEA said on Friday.

Cascades are a group of centrifuges that spin uranium gas together to enrich the uranium more quickly.

So far, Iran has been enriching uranium in those cascades up to two per cent purity. Iran already enriches uranium up to 60 per cent - just short of weapons-grade.

Iran also plans to install 18 cascades of IR-2m centrifuges at Natanz and eight cascades of IR-6 centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear site.

Each of these classes of centrifuges enriches uranium faster than Iran’s baseline IR-1 centrifuges, which remain the workhorse of the country’s atomic programme.

Hassan Rouhani (right), then president of Iran, visits a nuclear facility in 2019
Hassan Rouhani (right), then president of Iran, visits a nuclear facility in 2019 - REX

According to the IAEA, Iran is the only non-nuclear weapon state to enrich uranium to levels of 60 per cent while it continues accumulating large uranium stockpiles.

The US has called the moves “nuclear escalations” which have “no credible peaceful purpose”.

Matthew Miller, the spokesman for the US state department, said: “These planned actions further undermine Iran’s claims to the contrary. If Iran implements these plans, we will respond accordingly.”

Advertisement