TEHERAN • Iran said yesterday it has fired up advanced centrifuges to boost its enriched uranium stockpiles, in the latest scaling back of commitments under a crumbling 2015 nuclear deal.
The country’s Atomic Energy Organisation said, however, that it would honour commitments to give United Nations inspectors access to monitor its nuclear sites.
Three European countries – Britain, France and Germany – have been engaged in talks to try to rescue the 2015 deal that gave Iran relief from sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.
Tensions have been escalating between Iran and the United States since May last year when President Donald Trump pulled out of the accord and began reimposing sanctions that have crippled its economy.
Yesterday, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation said it had activated 20 IR-4 and 20 IR-6 centrifuges as its latest step in rolling back its commitments.
“The centrifuge machines, as they are engaged in research and development, will help with increasing the stockpile,” said the agency’s spokesman, Mr Behrouz Kamalvandi. “The capacity of these machines is many times more than the previous machines. This started as of yesterday (Friday),” he told a news conference in Teheran.
Under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran was allowed to enrich uranium using only first-generation – or IR-1 – centrifuges.
US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said he was “not surprised that Iran has announced that it’s going to violate the JCPOA”.
“It’s no surprise that the Iranians are going to pursue what the Iranians have always intended to pursue,” he said in Paris.
In a separate development yesterday, Iran seized a boat and arrested 12 Filipinos as it busted a “fuel-smuggling ring” in the Strait of Hormuz, the semi-official news agency Isna reported. “A foreign tugboat was confiscated as well as 283,900 litres of petrol worth 233.71 billion rials (S$7.7 million),” Isna said, citing the Coast Guard chief in the southern province of Hormozgan.
“Twelve Philippine nationals were arrested and the relevant judiciary officials are currently taking the required legal measures,” Major Hossein Dehaki was quoted as saying.
The seizure comes amid tensions in the Gulf after the US unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal. The escalation has seen ships mysteriously attacked, drones downed and oil tankers seized in the Strait of Hormuz .