Satellite images show building at Iran’s Fordow nuclear facility – report

Activity at Fordow and Natanz are seen as early brinkmanship with the incoming Biden administration

A handout satellite image shows a general view of the Natanz nuclear facility after a fire, in Natanz, Iran July 8, 2020 (photo credit: MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
A handout satellite image shows a general view of the Natanz nuclear facility after a fire, in Natanz, Iran July 8, 2020
Satellite images obtained by the Associated Press show new construction at Iran’s underground nuclear facility at Fordow used for uranium enrichment.
The report follows a report last week from The New York Times that Iran is moving a key Natanz nuclear site underground.
On Friday, both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternative Prime Minister and Defense Minster Benny Gantz spoke with Gen. Mark Milley, the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as he wrapped up a two-day visit in Israel.
Netanyahu and Milley “discussed regional threats, especially the Iranian aggression,” the Prime Minister’s Office said.
Iran is under increased scrutiny in view of the upcoming change of administrations in Washington from that of US President Donald Trump, who has taken a harsh stance against Iran’s nuclear program, to President-elect Joe Biden, who is expected to present a more conciliatory tone.
Trump left the 2015 Iran nuclear deal between Tehran and the six world powers, thereby reimposing powerful sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
The other five countries – Russia, China, France, Germany and the United Kingdom – want to maintain the deal.
Activity at Fordow and Natanz is seen as early brinkmanship with the incoming Biden administration.
Tehran’s actions also comes amid rumors that Israel could take action against its nuclear sites in advance of Biden’s entry into the White House.
On Friday US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned against appeasing Iran while speaking on the Mark Levin Show.
“I am hopeful that whoever is running the United States Government in 2021 understands that the Middle East is a very different place today than it was in 2015 and that appeasement of the Iranian regime will only lead to risk for the American people,” he said.
According to AP, construction at Fordow began in September and a satellite image from this month showed that a foundation had been dug with dozens of pillars.
AP added that a satellite photo of Fordow had been posted on a Twitter account called Observer IL, which it said had been taken from the South Korea’s Korea Aerospace Research Institute. AP said that the Twitter user had identified himself to the news agency as a retired IDF soldier.
The image is important because Tehran is enriching uranium in places where this is forbidden under the deal, such as at Fordow, a site dug into a mountain. More recently, it has started enriching with advanced centrifuges at its underground plant at Natanz, where the deal states it can use only first-generation IR-1 machines.
Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium is more than 2.4 tons, 12 times the cap set by the deal, though still far below the more than eight tons Iran had before signing it. Iran has been enriching uranium up to 4.5% purity, above the deal’s 3.67% limit, though below the 20% it achieved before the deal.
“What I see is that we’re moving full circle back to December 2015,” UN atomic watchdog chief Rafael Grossi told Reuters in an interview, referring to the month before the Iran deal’s restrictions were put in place, after which large amounts of material and equipment were swiftly removed.
“If they want to do it [comply], they could do it pretty fast. But for all of those things we had a charted course,” he said.
In his interview with Reuters, Grossi, who heads the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that polices the deal, said there had been too many breaches for the agreement for it to just fall back into place.
“I cannot imagine that they are going simply to say, ‘We are back to square one’ – because square one is no longer there,” Grossi said at IAEA headquarters.
Asked if that meant there would have to be a “deal within the deal,” he replied: “Oh yes, oh yes – Undoubtedly.”
Iranian Ambassador to the IAEA in Vienna Kazem Gharibabadi rejected Grossi’s assessment, saying that no deal would be forthcoming.
“The commitments of the parties and tasks have been delicately drafted and agreed and each side knows what to do to implement the deal.
“There would be no renegotiation on the deal – and in case of its revival, there is no necessity for a new document on the agency’s role,” he said. “It’s not needed to complicate the situation.”
Reuters contributed to this report.