Iran steps up breaches of nuclear deal as UN chief inspector set to visit Tehran to negotiate access to sites

IAEA presses for diplomacy and European nations and US to meet to discuss reviving the 2015 accord

This photo released on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019, by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran shows centrifuge machines in Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. Iran announced on Monday that had started gas injection into a 30-machine cascade of advanced IR-6 centrifuges in Natanz complex. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)
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The International Atomic Energy Agency is sounding the alarm at another breach by Iran to the nuclear deal it entered in 2015, as the organisation’s head is set to visit Tehran on Saturday to find a solution to the stand-off with the West.

On Wednesday, Reuters reported that Iran has informed the UN nuclear watchdog of its plans to install more of its advanced IR-2m centrifuges at an underground uranium enrichment plant at Natanz. An IAEA report warned the plans would deepen a breach of Iran’s nuclear deal.

“Iran indicated it plans to install two additional cascades of 174 IR-2m centrifuges at FEP to enrich ... up to 5 per cent U-235. This will bring the total number of cascades of IR-2m centrifuges either planned, being installed, or operating in FEP to six,” the IAEA report to its member states said.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced "concern" that Iran was failing to meet its obligations, in telephone talks with President Hassan Rouhani

This follows another breach by Iran last week as it has begun producing uranium metal, according to the agency. Iran has also informed the IAEA executive director that it will cease voluntary implementation of the Additional Protocol to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) on February 23.

On Wednesday, the IAEA said director general Rafael Grossi will visit Tehran on Saturday for discussions with senior Iranian officials, whom it did not identify.

It said the aim is “to find a mutually agreeable solution for the IAEA to continue essential verification activities in the country”, according to the Associated Press.

Top diplomats from European nations and the United States will hold talks on Thursday to see how to revive the 2015 deal, the French foreign ministry said on Wednesday. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will host his German and British counterparts in Paris, with America's new top diplomat Antony Blinken joining via videoconference.

Highlighting the tough path ahead, German Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced "concern" that Iran was failing to meet its obligations, in telephone talks with President Hassan Rouhani, her spokesman said in a statement.

The landmark nuclear deal, aimed at limiting Tehran's nuclear programme in exchange for international sanctions relief, is hanging by a thread.

Former US president Donald Trump withdrew from the accord in 2018 and reimposed sanctions on Tehran, with Iran a year later gradually suspending its compliance with most key nuclear commitments in response.

Under the agreement, IAEA inspectors are supposed to have limited access to non-nuclear Iranian facilities, including military sites, in cases of suspected illegal nuclear activity.

But under a law passed by Iran's parliament in December, Iran will stop allowing the intrusive inspections in late February unless there is an easing of US sanctions.

Mr Trump's successor, Joe Biden, said the US intends to return to the deal, but that Washington will return to full compliance only once Iran does.

Mr Grossi has been to Iran only once since taking over the helm of the IAEA in 2019.

But the visit in August 2020 was considered a success, leading to IAEA inspectors eventually being given access to two sites where undeclared nuclear activities may have taken place in the early 2000s.

Iran on Monday reiterated that opposition to nuclear weapons was its official policy.

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