TEHRAN – The withdrawal of the US from the 2015 nuclear deal has prompted Iran to signal its willingness to reopen its second uranium enrichment facility in Fordow, the country’s nuclear watchdog said. Last week, Tehran announced plans to resume enrichment under the deal.
“Currently the supreme leader [Ayatollah Khamenei] has determined that the programs are executed within the parameters of the nuclear agreement,” Iranian Atomic Energy Organization (AEOI) spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told the Young Journalists’ Club (YJC) in an interview.
“And when he gives the order, we will announce the programs to operate outside the nuclear agreement to revive Fordow,” he added.
Kamalvandi also pointed out that new equipment would also be installed at the Natanz nuclear power plant.
Last week, Iran’s supreme leader ordered the AEOI to prepare the Natanz facility to resume the enrichment process. The facility must be ready to house 60 enrichment centrifuges in a month, according to Iranian officials.
The decision to resume the enrichment process does not violate the 2015 agreement, officially known as Joint Comprehensive Action Plan (JCPOA), as the country can enrich small amounts of uranium for medical and research purposes.
The Fordow plant is the second uranium enrichment facility, located northeast of the city of Qom. The underground facility, which was buried underground, was revealed to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2009. No photos of the site, except satellite images, have emerged so far.
Following the US decision to leave the agreement on May 8, other signatories fought to prevent it from disintegrating. US allies – France, Britain and Germany – have vowed to keep the agreement, but agree with Washington that Iran’s missile program and regional activities could become a subject for future talks.
Tehran, however, refused to renegotiate the agreement in any way, urging all parties to actually meet their obligations. Iran’s compliance with JCPOA has been regularly confirmed by IAEA experts.
The main Iranian authorities repeatedly warned that if the country did not receive the economic benefits of JCPOA, it would be forced to abandon it. Speaking to French President Emmanuel Macron on the telephone, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani emphasized that the signatories “should not allow this great diplomatic achievement to be destroyed by unilateral measures and acts of violation of others.”
“If Iran cannot enjoy the benefits of the agreement, it will be virtually impossible to remain in it,” Rouhani told Macron on Tuesday, as quoted by state media.
While European countries have declared their commitment to the agreement and pledged to “protect” their companies operating in Iran from possible US sanctions, companies have already begun to leave the country. On Wednesday, Austrian Oberbank announced its withdrawal from Iran over the sanctions threatened. Oberbank was one of the first Western banks to enter the Iranian market after the historic agreement.