Iran’s launch of next-generation uranium enrichment equipment last week amounts to blackmail, a senior U.S. diplomat said on Wednesday.
Tehran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Zarif, said earlier that there was a realistic chance of mending the 2015 fraying nuclear accord under the upcoming U.S. presidency of Joe Biden.
However, his conciliatory message came as the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) governing board was mulling the news that Iran had started operating nearly 200 advanced centrifuges that can enrich uranium at higher speeds at an underground site in Natanz.
The move “is beyond the limitations of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action,” IAEA Chief Rafael Grossi said, referring to Iran’s 2015 pact with major powers.
“Iran’s actions are transparent attempts at extortion,” Washington’s IAEA envoy Jackie Wolcott told the IAEA board.
“We have made clear they will neither resolve the current impasse nor bring Iran sanctions relief,” she added.
In 2018, U.S. President Donald Trump announced his country’s exit from the nuclear deal that curbed Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium that could eventually be used to make nuclear weapons.
As Washington revived sanctions, Iran started retaliating last year by breaking key provisions of the deal.
The country’s stock of enriched uranium is now 12 times as high as agreed, according to the IAEA.
Zarif told the Iran newspaper that his country could return to honouring the pact as soon as the U.S. did the same, without the need for further talks.
Although president-elect Joe Biden also wants to return to the 2015 deal if Iran returned to compliance, he also seeks further negotiations with Tehran.