Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 23 January 2020

Iran to unveil new generation of uranium enrichment centrifuges soon

The announcement is likely to concern European parties to the nuclear deal

Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. AP
Centrifuge machines in the Natanz uranium enrichment facility in central Iran. AP

Iran will unveil a new generation of uranium enrichment centrifuges, the deputy head of Iran's nuclear agency Ali Asghar Zarean told State TV on Saturday.

"In the near future we will unveil a new generation of centrifuges that are domestically made," said Mr Zarean, without elaborating.

In September, Iran said it had started developing centrifuges to speed up the enrichment of uranium as part of steps to reduce compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal following the withdrawal of the United States.

But the country’s President Hassan Rouhani said Wednesday he was willing to return to the negotiating table if the US first drops sanctions, after a fuel price hike sparked deadly violence ahead of elections.

European countries have been pushing for talks with Iran to salvage a 2015 nuclear deal that has all but collapsed since the United States withdrew and reimposed sanctions last year.

Mr Rouhani has long demanded the lifting of US sanctions for Iran's return to talks under the auspices of the so-called P5+1, the five veto-wielding permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.

His latest statement comes after a shock announcement in mid-November that the price of petrol was going up by as much as 200 per cent triggered demonstrations across Iran that turned deadly.

The decision came at a sensitive time ahead of a February parliamentary election.

It is a rise many Iranians can ill afford in a country whose sanctions-hit economy is expected to contract by 9.5 per cent this year.

"If they are prepared to put aside the sanctions, we are ready to talk and negotiate, even at the level of heads of the 5+1 countries," Mr Rouhani said in remarks aired live on state television.

"We are under sanctions. This situation... is (because of) incitement by the Zionists and the region's reactionary," he said, referring to Iran's regional rivals Israel and Saudi Arabia.

His remarks came after France and Germany raised the possibility of triggering a mechanism in the deal that could lead to the reimposition of UN sanctions.

Mr Rouhani described the sanctions as "a cruel act by the White House".

"We have no choice but to resist and persevere," he said. "At the same time, we have not closed the window for negotiations.

"I tell the nation of Iran that any time America is prepared to lift and put aside its wrong, cruel, unlawful, incorrect, terrorist sanctions, immediately the heads of 5+1 can meet and we have no problem."

The landmark 2015 deal gave Iran relief from economic sanctions in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.

It has been at risk of falling apart since US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from it in May last year and reimposed sanctions.

Known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], it was agreed between Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany.

Twelve months on from the US pullout, Iran began reducing its commitments to the deal hoping to win concessions from those still party to the accord.

Its latest step back came last month, when engineers began feeding uranium hexafluoride gas into mothballed enrichment centrifuges at the underground Fordow plant south of Tehran.

In his remarks, Mr Rouhani said his government strived to remain in the nuclear deal despite "pressures" that were on it.

Updated: December 8, 2019 07:47 PM

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