Iran Moves Further From Nuclear Deal, Alarming Russia, France

Iran's president announced Tehran would begin injecting uranium gas into 1,044 centrifuges, the latest step away from its nuclear deal with world powers since Trump pulled out from the accord in 2018

An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria September 9, 2019.
Leonhard Foeger/Reuters

Iran has stepped up work at its underground Fordow nuclear facility, state TV reported on Wednesday, a move France said showed for the first time that Tehran explicitly planned to quit a deal with world powers that curbed its atomic work.

Russia also voiced alarm at Iran's decision to start injecting uranium gas into centrifuges at Fordow, a move that further distances Iran from the accord. A central aim of the agreement was to extend the time Iran would need to build a nuclear weapon, if it chose to, to a year from about 2-3 months.

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"With the presence of inspectors from International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran started injecting (uranium) gas into centrifuges in Fordow," TV reported.

UN nuclear inspectors are on the ground in Iran and will report back on relevant activities, an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) spokesman said on Wednesday.

"We are aware of the media reports today related to Fordow. Agency inspectors are on the ground in Iran and they will report any relevant activities to IAEA headquarters in Vienna," the spokesman said in a statement.

State television reported on Wednesday that Iran has started to inject uranium gas into centrifuges at its underground Fordow nuclear facility. 

"With the presence of inspectors from International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran started injecting (uranium) gas into centrifuges in Fordow," the station said.

Iran's nuclear deal with major powers does not allow enrichment at Fordow.

>> With latest nuke deal breach, Iran forces remaining signatories to face hard dilemma

Iran’s expansion of uranium enrichment activities in defiance of key nuclear commitments is “a big step in the wrong direction,” a spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said earlier Tuesday, after Tehran announced it would start injecting uranium gas into centrifuges at its underground Fordow enrichment facility.

“We fully support the International Atomic Energy Agency in conducting its independent verification role in Iran and look to the IAEA to report on any developments,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

Iran's president announced Tuesday morning that Tehran would begin injecting uranium gas into 1,044 centrifuges, the latest step away from its nuclear deal with world powers since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the accord over a year ago.

The development is significant as the centrifuges previously spun empty, without gas injection, under the landmark 2015 nuclear accord. It also increases pressure on European nations that remain in the accord, which at this point has all but collapsed.

In his announcement, President Hassan Rohani did not say whether the centrifuges, which are at its nuclear facility in Fordow, would be used to produce enriched uranium.

The centrifuges would be injected with the uranium gas as of Wednesday, Rohani said.