BEIRUT, June 13, (Agencies): Iran will begin uranium enrichment at its Fordow plant and will install new nuclear equipment at its Natanz facility if it withdraws from a nuclear deal with major powers, said the spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI). The fate of the 2015 nuclear deal is unclear after the United States withdrew from it.
The other signatory nations — Russia, China, Germany, Britain and France — are trying to salvage the accord, which imposed curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme in return for a lifting of some economic sanctions. Iran has two vast enrichment sites, at Natanz and Fordow. Much of Natanz is deep underground and Fordow is buried inside a mountain, which is widely believed to protect them from aerial bombardment. AEOI spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said in an interview published on Wednesday that new work would begin on the nuclear programme on the orders of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He did not specify what kind of new equipment might be installed at Natanz.
“Currently the Supreme Leader has ordered that the programmes be carried out within the parameters of the nuclear deal,” Kamalvandi told the Young Journalists’ Club (YJC) in an interview. “And when he gives the order we will announce the programmes for operating outside of the nuclear deal for reviving Fordow,” he added. Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the AEOI, announced last week that Iran had begun work on a facility to construct advanced centrifuges at Natanz.
The announcement appeared at least in part to be an effort to pressure the remaining signatories to preserve the 2015 deal. Kamalvandi accused the United States and other Western countries of applying double standards by opposing Iran’s nuclear programme, which he said was purely peaceful, while accepting the nuclear arms programme of Tehran’s foe Israel. “The West doesn’t criticise the Zionist regime and have even helped them,” the YJC quoted Kamalvandi as saying. “Without the help of the West and America this regime could never have obtained nuclear weapons.”
Israel is widely believed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear power. Israel has never confirmed or denied that it has a nuclear arsenal. Iran responded to US President Donald Trump’s latest attack on OPEC on Wednesday, saying US sanctions on Iran and fellow OPEC member Venezuela had contributed to volatile prices.
Trump said on Wednesday oil prices were too high and blamed the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, after last raising the issue in April. “You cannot place sanctions on two OPEC founder members and still blame OPEC for price volatility,” Iran’s OPEC Governor, Hossein Kazempour Ardebili, said in a statement to Reuters. “This is business, Mr President — we thought you knew it.” Austria’s Oberbank will withdraw from Iran because of increased risk for European companies in light of potential US sanctions, it said on Wednesday.
Oberbank signed a deal with Iran in September, enabling it to finance new ventures there. It was one of the first European banks to do so since Tehran struck a nuclear deal with six major powers in 2015 and many sanctions were lifted.
However, the outlook has changed after US President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the pact last month and said he would reimpose sanctions. Although the European Union signatories have said they want to keep the deal in place, many companies have voiced their concern over the increased risk of conducting business in Iran. “Oberbank has supported numerous clients and their Iran business in the past two years,” Oberbank said on its website. “The threat posed to European companies by US secondary sanctions is forcing us to retreat.”
The lender had already taken the precautionary measure of placing its Iranian financing projects on hold. It now says that transactions and letters of credit related to Iran will be provided exclusively for contracts signed before May 8. The bank said it advises its customers to conclude Iran-related transactions promptly and that payments are likely to be impossible from Nov 4.