Inspectors from the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog have visited Iran’s nuclear enrichment site at Natanz days after it was reportedly attacked in what Tehran has called an act of “sabotage”.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) did not comment on the extent of the damage from Sunday’s explosion, which knocked out electricity at the site in central Iran.
Iran has blamed Israel for the blast at its key nuclear site, which came as Iran was continuing talks with world powers in Vienna over restoring the 2015 nuclear accord, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
“IAEA inspectors are continuing their verification and monitoring activities in Iran, and today have been at the Natanz enrichment site,” the IAEA said in a statement on Wednesday.
“The IAEA will continue to report on relevant developments regarding Iran’s nuclear programme to the IAEA Board of Governors,” it said, referring to its 35-nation decision-making body.
Iran announced it would increase uranium enrichment up to 60 percent, its highest level ever, in response to the attack. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the decision to increase uranium enrichment after the attack was “an answer to your evilness”, saying Israel hoped to derail the talks aimed at reviving Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal. Israeli authorities have not commented on the attack.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised never to allow Tehran to obtain a nuclear weapon. While Iran’s move keeps enrichment below weapons-grade levels of 90 percent, it is a short step away. Iran insists that its nuclear programme is peaceful.
The announcement came as negotiators from the remaining signatories to the JCPOA – Russia, China, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, the European Union and Iran – prepared to resume negotiations on the United States rejoining the accord.
Washington unilaterally pulled out of the agreement in 2018 under former US President Donald Trump, but the administration of President Joe Biden has said it would rejoin if Iran returns to compliance with the deal. Iran has said it would not return to compliance until the US lifts harsh sanctions imposed on it since the US withdrawal.
France, Germany and the United Kingdom, all parties to the nuclear deal, issued a joint statement on Wednesday expressing their “grave concern” over Iran’s decision to increase enrichment.
“This is a serious development since the production of highly enriched uranium constitutes an important step in the production of a nuclear weapon,” the countries said. “Iran has no credible civilian need for enrichment at this level.”
Saudi Arabia, a regional rival to Iran said enriching at that level “could not be considered a programme intended for peaceful purposes.”
“The kingdom calls on Iran to avoid escalation and not to subject the security and stability of the region to more tension, and to engage seriously in the current negotiations,” Saudi Arabia said in a statement.