VIENNA (AP) – Iran has started removing 27 surveillance cameras from nuclear sites across the country, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog said Thursday, warning that doing so could deal a “deadly blow” to the torn nuclear deal as Tehran lost uranium closer than ever to weapon-level enrichment.
The development comes a day after the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors chided Tehran for failing to provide “credible information” about manufactured nuclear material found at three undeclared sites in the country.
It also follows months of deadlocked talks aimed at restoring the Islamic Republic’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Across the Middle East, tensions remain high over the deal’s collapse as US sanctions and soaring global food prices choke Iran’s ailing economy and put further pressure on its government and people.
“Obviously this poses a serious challenge to our ability to continue working there,” warned Rafael Mariano Grossi, Director General of the IAEA.
He added that failure to reach an agreement to restore the cameras in three to four weeks “would be a fatal blow” to the Iran nuclear deal. Grossi has already warned that without the cameras, Iran could manufacture centrifuges and divert them to undisclosed locations.
“If we lose this, everyone’s guessing,” he added.
Iran did not immediately admit that it removed the 27 cameras, despite previously threatening further punitive measures. State media on Thursday aired footage of workers unplugging two IAEA cameras.
“It is unacceptable that they exhibit inappropriate behavior while Iran continues to cooperate,” Behrouz Kamalvandi, a spokesman for Iran’s nuclear program, told IAEA officials on Wednesday.
Iran’s hardline President Ebrahim Raisi struck a much more combative tone during his visit to downtown Shahr-e Kord on Thursday.
“Do you assume that we are withdrawing due to decisions?” he asked. “In the name of God and in the name of the nation, Iran will not deviate a single step from its stance.”
Grossi made the comments at a sudden press conference in Vienna, while standing next to an example of the cameras installed across Iran. Iran will remove IAEA cameras from sites including Tehran, the Natanz underground nuclear enrichment facility, the Isfahan facility and the Arak heavy-water reactor in Khondab, he said.
“Over forty” IAEA cameras would remain active in Iran, Grossi said, although Tehran has been withholding IAEA footage since February 2021 as a pressure tactic to restore the nuclear deal.
“We are in a very tense situation as negotiations to revive the (nuclear deal) are at rock bottom,” Grossi added. “Now let’s add that to the picture; So, as you can see, it’s not very pretty.”
On Wednesday, Iran said it had shut down two devices the IAEA uses to monitor enrichment at Natanz. Grossi admitted this Thursday, saying that among the devices that were removed were the online enrichment monitor and the flow meter. These monitor the enrichment of uranium gas through pipelines at enrichment plants, allowing inspectors to follow their work remotely.
Meanwhile, the IAEA said early Thursday that Iran had informed the agency that it plans to install two new cascades of IR-6s at Natanz. A cascade is a series of centrifuges linked together to spin uranium gas to enrich it.
An IR-6 centrifuge spins uranium ten times faster than the first-generation centrifuges that Iran was once restricted to under its nuclear deal with world powers. According to the IAEA, Iran had already filmed a cascade of IR-6s at its underground facility in Fordo in February.
Iran previously said it plans to install a cascade of IR-6s at Natanz. The IAEA said it “verified” ongoing installation of that cascade on Monday, while installation of the newly promised two other cascades has yet to begin.
Iran and world powers agreed on the 2015 nuclear deal, under which Tehran drastically curtailed its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. In 2018, then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the deal, escalating tensions across the Middle East and sparking a series of attacks and incidents.
Talks in Vienna about reviving the deal have been on hold since March. Since the deal’s failure, Iran has operated advanced centrifuges and a rapidly growing stockpile of enriched uranium.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Thursday that America “remains committed to a mutual return” to the nuclear deal, but only “if Iran drops its additional demands that are irrelevant.” This likely refers to Iran’s insistence that its paramilitary Revolutionary Guards be eliminated from the US as a terrorist group.
Non-proliferation experts warn that Iran has enriched enough, to 60% purity — a short technical step from a 90% weapons-grade level — to produce a nuclear weapon if it decides to do so.
Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes, although UN experts and Western intelligence agencies say Iran had an organized military nuclear program until 2003.
Building a nuclear bomb would still cost Iran more time in pursuit of a weapon, analysts say, although they warn Tehran’s advances are making the program more dangerous. Israel has threatened in the past that it would launch a pre-emptive strike to stop Iran – and is already suspected in a string of recent assassinations of Iranian officials.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett hailed Wednesday’s IAEA executive board vote to censure Tehran as “a significant decision that bares the true colors of Iran.”
“The IAEA vote is a clear warning light for Iran: if Iran continues its activities, the leading countries must bring the matter back to the UN Security Council,” said Bennett, who made an unannounced trip to the United Arab Emirates on Thursday .
However, the crisis threatens to escalate further.
On Wednesday night, a drone exploded in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil in the northern Kurdish region, slightly injuring three people and damaging cars and a nearby restaurant, officials said. The Iraqi-Kurdish Region Counter-Terrorism Directorate-General on Thursday claimed that Iran-backed militia Kataeb Hezbollah, or Hezbollah Brigades, launched the drone.
The militia later denied launching the drone attack.
(Copyright (c) 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed.)
https://whdh.com/news/iran-pulls-un-nuke-cameras-in-possible-fatal-blow-to-deal/ Iran drags UN nuclear cameras in possible ‘fatal strike’ to deal – Boston News, Weather, Sports