Netanyahu: Iran lied about its nuclear program, IAEA confirms

Tensions are continuing to rise between Tehran and the international community over its nuclear program.

PM Benjamin Netanyahu the dedication of the new visitor’s center at JNF-KKL Hula Lake Park, November 5 2019 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
PM Benjamin Netanyahu the dedication of the new visitor’s center at JNF-KKL Hula Lake Park, November 5 2019
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has confirmed that Iran lied about its nuclear program, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday evening as tensions increased between Tehran and the international community over its renewed enrichment of uranium at its Fordow facility.
“A year ago, speaking at the UN, I exposed Iran’s secret nuclear warehouse in Turkuzabad,” Netanyahu said. “This morning, a special board meeting of the IAEA published its findings on Iran’s activities in the no-longer secret facility. The IAEA now confirms that Iran lied and that Iran continues to lie. Everything I told you a year ago has now been confirmed by the IAEA. The IAEA has confirmed that Iran is has been violating the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran continues to hide its secret nuclear weapons program.”
Iran said on Thursday that it had resumed uranium enrichment at its underground Fordow nuclear plant, stepping further away from its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers after the United States pulled out last year.
The pact bans production of nuclear material at Fordow, a highly sensitive site that Iran hid from UN non-proliferation inspectors until its exposure in 2009. But with feedstock gas entering its centrifuges, the facility – built inside a mountain to withstand any air strikes – will move from the permitted status of research plant to being an active nuclear site.
“After all successful preparations... injection of uranium gas into centrifuges started on Thursday at Fordow,” the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) said in a statement distributed by state media. “The whole process has been supervised by the inspectors of the UN nuclear watchdog.”
Iran moved a cylinder or uranium hexafluoride gas to its Fordow site and connected it to centrifuges there in breach of its nuclear deal with major powers, the IAEA said on Thursday, but it made no mention of uranium enrichment. It had verified on Wednesday that the cylinder was connected to two cascades of centrifuges for passivation, “a preparatory activity conducted prior to enrichment,” an IAEA spokesman said in a statement.
A more detailed IAEA report sent to member states and seen by Reuters said the other four cascades of centrifuges installed at Fordow – where enrichment and nuclear material are banned under the deal – “remained unchanged.”
Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on the international community to band together to halt a nuclear Iran.
“It’s time for the nations of the world to resist Iran’s aggression and terror,” Netanyahu said. “It’s time to snap back sanctions. It’s time to pressure Iran until it changes its ways. Iran must stop attacking the nations of the Middle East. Iran must stop threatening to destroy Israel. Europe must stop stalling. It must act against Iranian aggression now.”
Pompeo warned that “Iran’s expansion of proliferation-sensitive activities raises concerns that Iran is positioning itself to have the option of a rapid nuclear breakout.”
The biggest obstacle to building a nuclear weapon is stockpiling enough fissile material – highly enriched uranium or plutonium – for the core of a bomb. A central objective of the 2015 deal was to extend the time Iran would need to do that from about two or three months to one year.
“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,” Pompeo said. “The United States will never allow this to happen.”
Under the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran agreed to turn Fordow into a “nuclear, physics and technology center” where 1,044 centrifuges are used for purposes other than enrichment, such as producing stable isotopes, which have a variety of civil uses.
“All the centrifuges installed at Fordow are IR1 types,” AEOI spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told state TV. “Uranium gas [UF6] was injected into four chains of IR1 centrifuges [696 centrifuges]. Two other remaining chains of IR1 centrifuges [348 centrifuges] will be used for producing and enriching stable isotopes in the facility. The process will take a few hours to stabilize, and by Saturday, when International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors will again visit the site, an...enrichment level of 4.5% will have been achieved.”
Enrichment of uranium to such a low level of fissile purity would be broadly suitable for civilian electricity generation, while 90% purity is required for nuclear bomb fuel.
The US withdrew from the deal in May 2018, calling it flawed to Iran’s advantage, and reimposed sanctions on Iran aimed at crippling its oil-based economy.
US President Donald Trump’s administration has renewed and intensified sanctions on Iran, slashing the country’s economically vital crude oil exports by more than 80%.
Iran’s move at Fordow will make it even harder for the deal’s other parties – Britain, Germany, France, Russia, China and the EU – to prevent its ultimate collapse.
Speaking at a news conference at the end of a visit to China, French President Emmanuel Macron called Iran’s latest step “serious,” and said he would speak with both Trump and the Iranians in coming days.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, co-architect of the 2015 agreement, has underlined that Tehran’s breaches would be reversible if Washington scrapped sanctions and returned to the deal.
Responding to Washington’s “maximum pressure” policy, Iran has bypassed restrictions of the deal step-by-step, including by breaching both its cap on stockpiled enriched uranium and on the fissile level of enrichment, set at 3.7%.
Thursday’s special IAEA meeting was held one day after an IAEA official was temporarily detained and her travel documents seized by the Islamic Republic in a violation of international protocol for treatment of its inspectors.
Iran’s holding of an inspector from the UN nuclear watchdog was an “outrageous provocation,” the US said at an emergency meeting on Thursday of the IAEA’s 35-nation board of governors.
Iran confirmed that it prevented the inspector from gaining access to its main uranium enrichment facility at Natanz. Its envoy to the IAEA told reporters that it was because she tested positive for traces of explosives that prompted further investigation, but that the inspector was not detained and had been repatriated.
Tehran had asked that she be removed from the list of designated inspectors. The IAEA declined to comment.
Reuters contributed to this report.