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Iran Says 'Rapidly Approaching' Pull-Out From Nuclear Deal By Boosting Enrichment

File - Iranian President Hassan Rohani and head of Iran's nuclear technology organization Ali Akbar Salehi (2-R) visit a nuclear facility during the National Nuclear Technology Day in Tehran, April 9, 2019

Iran has deployed a new generation of more powerful centrifuges at its nuclear establishments, Iranian Atomic Energy Agency Spokesperson Behrouz Kamalvandi announced at a news conference in Tehran on Saturday September 7.

The measure is part of Tehran's initiative to gradually suspend its commitments under the 2015 nuclear agreement with the West, also called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Kamalvandi said.

He added that the new centrifuges including the IR-6 models have a capacity several times larger than the previous generations. The new generation of centrifuges will enrich uranium at a higher grade and a higher speed.

Kamalvandi had said earlier that Iran has the potential to exceed 20% enrichment. Nuclear scientist say 20% enrichment is just one technical step short of the weapons-grade 90% enriched uranium.

Iran will be using several sets of 20 IR-4 and IR-6 centrifuges immediately, while using sets of10 IR-5 will be on its agenda for coming months.

During the news conference which was aired on Iran's state-owned TV, Kamalvandi who was standing next to the centrifuges, said repeatedly that Iran was quickly approaching a stage that would mean a full withdrawal from the JCPOA.

However, Kamalvandi said that the new move will be part of Iran's research and development (R & D) plan, adding that for the time being, Iran will not make any change in the situation of its Fordo site and international inspection of its nuclear establishments.

Nevertheless, he warned that the stockpile of Iran's enriched uranium is quickly increasing, adding, "We hope the Europeans come to their senses."

Iranian officials have said repeatedly that they will reverse these initiatives as soon as Europe delivers the sanctions relief Iran has been demanding in return to full compliance with JCPOA.

Kamalvandi on Saturday warned Europe that they have only a limited time to save the nuclear accord, adding that "When the other side does not fulfil its commitments, it cannot expect Iran to respect its obligations under the deal."

Kamalvandi's news conference took place on the same day Tehran expects the arrival of the acting director of the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The agency has so far verified that Iran has not been violating the JCPOA while expressing concern about Tehran's suspension of its commitments.

In June, the IAEA confirmed Iran had installed up to 33 IR-6 centrifuges but had injected Uranium gas in only 10 of the machines.

Based on the JCPOA Iran is allowed to have 30 IR-6 centrifuges before the year 2023. Meanwhile, in the 2015 agreement, Iran has accepted to have no more than 5060 older generation IR-1 centrifuges in its nuclear establishment in Natanz until 2025. Reports say Iran had around 19,000 centrifuges before the 2015 agreement.

Meanwhile, Iran has agreed under the JCPOA to use IR-4, IR-5, IR-6 and IR-8 centrifuges only for research and development purposes.

Iran started to reduce its commitment to the JCPOA by taking one step every 60 days from May 8, the anniversary of the United States' pull-out from the deal in 2018.

Iran calls the measures that started on Friday, "The third step" in reducing its commitments under the JCPOA. In the first two steps, Tehran breached the stockpile and enrichment level limits set by the JCPOA, although hardline daily Kayhan, which is close to Supreme Leader Khamenei's office, wrote on Thursday that these reductions do not mean anything as they do not make much of a difference in Iran's situation.

The Kayhan also criticized the Rouhani administration for making small threats in these steps while immediately making a cautious comment saying these threats are not serious. Kamalvandi's remarks about Fordo and IAEA inspection follow the pattern the daily has highlighted.

Iran’s defiant but calculated moves and the absence of a categorical rejection by Washington to perhaps reduce sanctions if Iran takes satisfactory steps, signal that no one itches for more tensions and the aim of both sides is to eventually reach a diplomatic solution.

But there is a very big gap between the positions of the two sides. U.S. is demanding a renegotiated nuclear agreement and a major change in Tehran’s regional policies. Iran does not appear willing to make any substantial concessions at this time.

Meanwhile, Tehran is economically hard pressed, while the U.S. has the luxury of waiting. But as U.S. presidential election approaches, Iran will be less interested to make major concessions, waiting to see if in 2021 there will be a new president in the White House.