The announcement appeared to undercut indirect talks between Iran and the US on bringing both fully back into the battered deal that resumed this week after a five-month break prompted by the election of hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi.
Western negotiators fear Iran is creating facts on the ground to gain leverage in the talks.
On the third day of this round of talks, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran had started the process of enriching uranium to up to 20 percent purity with one cascade, or cluster, of 166 advanced IR-6 machines at Fordow. Those machines are far more efficient than the first-generation IR-1.
Underlining how badly eroded the deal is, that pact does not allow Iran to enrich uranium at Fordow at all. Until now Iran had been producing enriched uranium there with IR-1 machines and had enriched with some IR-6s without keeping the product. It has 94 IR-6 machines installed in a cascade at Fordow that is not yet operating, the IAEA said in a statement.
A more comprehensive IAEA report circulated to member states said that as a result of Iran’s move the nuclear watchdog planned to step up inspections at the Fordow Fuel Enrichment Plant that houses the centrifuges, but the details still need to be ironed out.
The US sounded pessimistic on Thursday about the chances of reviving the deal, with Washington saying it had little cause for optimism and Tehran questioning the determination of US and European negotiators.
“I have to tell you, recent moves, recent rhetoric, don’t give us a lot of cause for … optimism,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Stockholm, saying he could judge in a day or so if Iran would engage in good faith.
Israel urged world powers to halt nuclear talks with Iran immediately. “Iran is carrying out nuclear blackmail as a negotiating tactic, and this should be answered by the immediate halt to negotiations and the implementation of tough steps by the world powers,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office quoted him as saying in a call with Blinken.
An Israeli official said Bennett told Blinken of his objections to any lifting of sanctions against Iran, particularly under an interim deal, which would effectively mean “the massive flow of funds to the Iranian regime.”
Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said that negotiations in Vienna were “proceeding with seriousness” and that the removal of sanctions was a “fundamental priority.”