On November 5, President Hassan Rouhani announced a major increase in Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity. He said that Iran would start injecting gas into centrifuges at Fordo, heavily fortified facility. Built inside a mountain, Fordo was intended to be a research facility under the 2015 nuclear deal, not an active site. Major powers condemned Iran’s fourth step away from its commitments under the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). On November 7, Iran began enriching at Fordo.
Iran’s 4th step in reducing its commitments under the JCPOA by injecting gas to 1044 centrifuges begins today. Thanks to US policy and its allies, Fordow will soon be back to full operation. https://t.co/Mpkk9d0BIp— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) November 6, 2019
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Tehran of extorting the international community into accepting its nuclear program and behavior in the region:
Iran’s latest nuclear escalations reflect the regime’s intentions all along: to extort the international community into accepting its violence and terror while it undermines the sovereignty of its neighbors. Members of the international community who are rightly concerned with Iran’s latest attacks and provocations should imagine how Iran would behave with a nuclear weapon. The United States will never allow this to happen.
Iran’s expansion of proliferation-sensitive activities raises concerns that Iran is positioning itself to have the option of a rapid nuclear breakout. It is now time for all nations to reject this regime’s nuclear extortion and take serious steps to increase pressure. Iran’s continued and numerous nuclear provocations demand such action.
The European Union said the move made it “increasingly difficult” to preserve the JCPOA and called on Iran to reverse course. “The announcement by Iran on November 5 to increase its enrichment capacity goes against the Vienna agreement, which strictly limits activities in this area,” said French foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll. “We are waiting with our partners for the next IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) reports on Iran’s announcements and actions.”
Britain said Iran’s actions clearly breached the nuclear deal and called the step a threat to national security. “We want to find a way forward through constructive international dialogue but Iran needs to stand by the commitments it made and urgently return to full compliance,” said Foreign minister Dominic Raab.
On November 11, France, Germany, Britain and the European Union issued a joint statement saying they were “extremely concerned” by Iran’s decision. “Iran’s action is inconsistent with the JCPOA’s clear provisions on Fordow and has potentially severe proliferation implications,” the statement said. “We affirm our readiness to consider all mechanisms in the JCPOA, including the dispute resolution mechanism, to resolve the issues related to Iran’s implementation of its JCPOA commitments.”
Germany further suggested that European powers consider renewed sanctions on Iran. “Iran must finally return to its commitments (under the 2015 accord),” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a meeting with E.U. foreign ministers. “Otherwise we will reserve the right to use all mechanisms specified in the deal (for sanctions to be reimposed).”
Even Russia, one of Iran’s key partners, expressed concern with Tehran’s latest move. "We are monitoring the development of the situation with concern," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. "We support the preservation of this deal."
The first generation IR-1 centrifuges at Fordo had been spinning but were not enriching uranium. Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said Iran would begin enriching uranium to five percent at the Fordow facility, slightly above the 3.67 percent limit under the nuclear deal. Uranium must be enriched to 90 percent to be used in a weapon.
Rouhani said the enrichment work at Fordo would be closely monitored by IAEA and emphasized that Iran could stop at any time. "We know their sensitivity with regard to Fordow. With regard to these centrifuges, we know. But at the same time when they uphold their commitments we will cut off the gas again ... So it is possible to reverse this step," Rouhani said.