Mr Rouhani himself oversaw the launch of advanced centrifuges at the underground Natanz nuclear plant to mark the Islamic Republic’s National Nuclear Technology Day. A live video link carried on state TV showed Mr Rouhani ordering the injection of uranium gas into 164 IR-6 centrifuges, 30 IR-5 centrifuges, and mechanical tests on IR-9 machines with the capacity of 50 early IR-1 machines – a likely new breach of the nuclear deal.
Mr Rouhani insisted the “133 advances” in the country’s nuclear industry over the past year were mostly in the fields of medicine, power, agricultural and energy.
He said: “Once again, I stress that all our nuclear activities are peaceful and for non-military purposes.
“We continue to be committed to our pledge to the non-proliferation treaty and to the world not to deviate militarily from our nuclear programme.”
Iran has breached a raft of restrictions imposed by a 2015 deal on its atomic activities in response to former president Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the deal in 2018.
Washington and Tehran have laid out tough stances at indirect talks in Vienna this week on how to bring both back into full compliance with the accord.
The talks in Vienna, in which European Union officials are shuttling between the remaining parties to the deal and the US, aim to restore the bargain at the core of the agreement – restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of US and other international sanctions.
Washington was the first to renege on that bargain under Mr Trump, who vehemently opposed the deal and sought to wreck it.
He pulled out, reimposed the sanctions that were lifted, and brought in many more.
Iran responded by breaching many of the nuclear restrictions covered by the accord.
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Tehran is now demanding Joe Biden lifts all sanctions imposed by Mr Trump, which include a sweeping unilateral ban on its oil exports, before it falls back in line with obligations it suspended.
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said: “The US – which caused this crisis – should return to full compliance first.
“Iran will reciprocate following rapid verification.”
The International Atomic Energy Agency flagged Iran’s latest violation just yesterday as the Vienna talks were wound up for the weekend.
But David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector and a hawk on Iran, said the latest breach also raises questions about what major powers excluded from the enriched uranium stockpile.
He said: “Looking back, exempting this near 20 percent enriched uranium scrap was probably not a good idea.
“When enriched uranium is made into fuel plates, some does not get used, somewhat like batter for a cake.”