Iran is developing advanced centrifuges to increase the speed by which it can produce enriched uranium, warned Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Sunday in advance of renewed negotiations in Geneva on Monday between Tehran and six world powers that hope to diplomatically disarm Iran’s nuclear program.
Iran is “currently developing centrifuges that are capable of enriching uranium six times faster than its regular centrifuges,” Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday.
“We are monitoring these developments and are pointing them out to the world,” Netanyahu said.
Israel fears the West has made to many concessions to Iran as it seeks to diplomatically thwarts its nuclear program. Netanyahu worries that Iran is playing the West for time to strengthen its nuclear capacity. He believes that sanctions should not be eased against Iran until it has removed all enriched uranium from the country and dismantled it technical capacity to produce nuclear weapons.
But instead Western powers have accepted a limited Iranian nuclear program in exchange for easing some of the sanctions against Iran.
“Even before the agreement is signed I see that the Iranian economy is recovering somewhat,” Netanyahu said.
“We continue to see preventing the nuclearization of Iran as our main goal vis-à-vis the national security of the State of Israel, as well as the security of the region and the entire world,” Netanyahu said.
But he has focused his most recent comments on the issue of the centrifuges critical to the process of enriching the uranium needed for a nuclear weapon.
An Israeli official elaborated that one of the serious problems with the interim agreement under negotiation in Geneva is that it allows Iran to continue to develop and upgrade its centrifuges.
Theoretically, the official said, should Iran decide to break its agreement with the West, it could used these advanced centrifuges to quickly enrich enough uranium for a nuclear weapon.
“This is of grave concern,” he said.
A spokeswoman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who oversees diplomacy with Iran on behalf of the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany, said Monday’s talks were scheduled to last one day for now.
Two rounds of negotiations have been held so far since Iran agreed on November 24 to curb its most sensitive nuclear work in return for relief from some economic sanctions that are damaging its oil-dependent economy.
In comments that highlight the challenges facing negotiators, Iran's nuclear chief said on Friday Tehran was pressing on with tests of more efficient uranium enrichment technology. His comments appeared aimed at soothing the anger of Iranian hardliners over possible new US sanctions on Iran.
The nuclear experts have to work out when the deal will be implemented, triggering the loosening of economic restrictions by the EU and the United States.
A key sticking point appears to be what information Western governments will receive in advance to verify that Iran is meeting its end of the deal before they lift some sanctions.
Other outstanding issues address how exactly sanctions will be eased and practical details of Iranian concessions.
Some diplomats from the six nations have said they hoped the deal could be put fully in place by the second half of January.
The talks resume at a sensitive time. Iranian hardliners, irked by the foreign policy shift since moderate President Hasan Rouhani was elected in June, oppose the Geneva deal and call it "a surrender to America's pressure" by the government.
A group of 100 hardline Iranian lawmakers are seeking to oblige the government to increase uranium enrichment to 60 percent, a level that can produce bomb-grade material if enriched further, if new US sanctions are imposed on Tehran.
It is not clear if the bill will be debated in Iran's 290-seat parliament as the country's most powerful authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has repeatedly backed the Geneva talks. If approved, the bill would have to be ratified by a constitutional watchdog body to become law.
Iranian lawmakers said their bill was a response to "America's hostile measures," referring to legislation introduced by 26 US senators last week to impose new sanctions on Iran if the Islamic Republic breaks the Geneva deal.
A hardline Iranian MP said the process could be derailed if the US lawmakers imposed the tougher curbs despite the Obama administration's opposition.
"Ratification of such a bill could put an end to nuclear negotiations and Tehran may opt not to continue negotiations in the wake of such sanctions," said the deputy head of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Mansour Haqhiqhatpour, Press TV reported.
The proposed US legislation would require reductions in Iran's petroleum production and apply new penalties to Iran's engineering, mining and construction industries.
To calm the hardliners, nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said Tehran was testing more efficient uranium enrichment technology by building a new generation of centrifuges - machines that spin at supersonic speed to increase the ratio of the fissile isotope that could enable it to refine uranium much faster.
Although the development does not appear to contravene the Geneva accord, it may worry the major powers who are trying to curb the Islamic state's nuclear program.
"The new generation of centrifuges is under development. However, tests should be completed before mass production of the centrifuges," Press TV quoted Salehi as saying.
Salehi also said Iran had a total of 19,000 centrifuges, without elaborating on how many were operational.
A spokesman for Iran's Atomic Energy Organization announced on December 7 that initial testing on a new generation of more sophisticated centrifuges had been completed.
Iran rejects Western fears that its nuclear work has any military intentions and says it needs nuclear power for electricity generation and medical research.
The November 24 deal is meant to give the six powers time to negotiate a final settlement with Iran that will put an end to the decade-old standoff and ease worries over a new war in the Middle East.