Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Picture: HO/IRANIAN PRESIDENCY/AFP
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Picture: HO/IRANIAN PRESIDENCY/AFP

Geneva   — Iran will start injecting gas into centrifuges at its underground Fordow fuel enrichment facility, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday, “concerning” the EU and complicating European  efforts to salvage the country’s 2015 nuclear deal.

Under the deal between Iran and major powers, Iran agreed to turn Fordow into a “nuclear, physics and technology centre” in which 1,044 centrifuges are used for purposes other than enrichment, such as producing stable isotopes, which have a variety of civil uses.

The pact allows Iran only to spin the centrifuges at Fordow, located inside a mountain near the Shiite holy city of Qom, without injecting gas. Uranium gas injection could allow production of enriched uranium, banned at the facility under the pact.

“Starting from Wednesday, gas will be injected into centrifuges at Fordow as part of our fourth step to reduce our nuclear commitments to the deal,” Rouhani said in a televised speech. He did not specify what kind of gas will be injected into centrifuges at Fordow. However, the move would be a breach of the deal because nuclear material is banned from Fordow.

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, agreed to in 2015 between Iran, the three European powers, Russia, China and the US, includes a mechanism for dealing with breaches, but so far this has not been used.

The measure will further complicate  the chances of saving the accord, which European powers have called on Iran to respect.

“The announcement by Iran on November 5 to increase its enrichment capacity goes against the Vienna agreement, which strictly limits activities in this area,” French foreign ministry spokesperson Agnès Von Der Mühll said.

Iran said on Monday that it had accelerated enrichment by doubling the number of advanced IR-6 centrifuges in operation, adding that it was working on “a prototype called the IR-9, which works 50-times faster than the IR-1 centrifuges”.

Crumbling control

“The deal has become a no-man’s land. We’re controlling less and less as it crumbles around us,” said a senior European diplomat. “In terms of credibility it becomes harder and harder to not react.”

Rouhani gave another two-month deadline to Britain, France and Germany to salvage the deal by protecting Iran’s economy from crippling US sanctions re-imposed in May after Washington’s withdrawal from the deal. “We can’t unilaterally accept that we completely fulfil our commitments and they don’t follow up on their commitments,” Rouhani said.

In reaction to Washington’s “maximum pressure” policy, Iran has gradually scaled back its commitments to the deal, under which it curbed its nuclear programme in exchange for the removal of most international sanctions.

Tehran, however, says talks are possible if Washington lifts sanctions and returns to the deal. “All these measures are reversible if other parties fulfil their commitments ... We should be able to sell our oil and to transfer its money into the country,” Rouhani said, referring to US sanctions on Iran’s oil and banking sectors.

A key factor for EU countries is the assessment of Iran’s latest actions by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which oversees Tehran’s nuclear activities.

“They haven’t really changed their approach. They are provocative but the measures they have taken up to now are reversible,” one EU official said. “But the longer they push it, this reversibility is going to disappear.” 

AFP