Iran Moves Equipment To Build Centrifuges to Natanz Nuclear Site
Transfer to underground enrichment plant not a deal breaker for renewal of nuclear deal, experts say
Iran is moving equipment used to make centrifuge parts from its workshop in Karaj, to its Natanz nuclear site, the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said on Wednesday.
The Karaj factory manufactures centrifuges used for uranium enrichment.
“Moving the equipment which produces these parts to Natanz means further reduction of the already very limited ability of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to monitor centrifuge production,” Dr. Ran Porat, a research associate at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council and a research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at Reichman University in Herzliya, told The Media Line.
“Put simply, the UN nuclear watchdog is facing major problems in its task to verify how many centrifuges Iran is producing, and which types,” said Porat.
However, Jamal Wakim, a professor of history and international relations at Lebanese University in Beirut, told The Media Line, that he believes Iran is transferring the centrifuge equipment to Natanz in order to “put them in one location where they can be easily monitored by international experts.” This “is a serious step toward striking a deal,” he said, referring to efforts to revive the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers.
Jason M. Brodsky, policy director at United Against Nuclear Iran, told The Media Line that it’s difficult to know for sure why Iran made the change.
He pointed out that there has been extensive underground construction at Natanz over the last year.
“Security concerns could be an explanation for the move – especially after the Karaj incident, as well as the system’s desire to increase centrifuge production capacity by potentially utilizing both the facilities in Isfahan and Natanz – or at the very least having them on hand as options,” Brodsky said.
An unknown number of centrifuge parts could have been produced, stored and/or shipped to other locations in Iran
The IAEA had installed cameras to monitor activity at Iran’s nuclear facility in Karaj, west of Tehran, under the 2015 nuclear deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. In June 2021, Iran said the facility suffered sabotage that it blamed on Israel. After that, Iran removed all the cameras. It allowed the IAEA to install new ones in December.
For several months there was no IAEA camera surveillance at Karaj.
“An unknown number of centrifuge parts could have been produced, stored and/or shipped to other locations in Iran,” explained Porat.
Equipment from Karaj was moved to a new facility in Isfahan, where the IAEA was allowed to install monitoring cameras. Now the rest of the Karaj centrifuge-making equipment is being moved to Natanz.
“Most likely to the big, new underground hall where centrifuges are manufactured and assembled. It replaces the aboveground facility [the Iran Centrifuge Assembly Center, or ICAC] that was heavily damaged in a mysterious blast attributed to Israel in July 2020,” Porat said.
Brodsky said Iran is acting to increase its leverage in the Vienna negotiations aimed at reaching a renewed nuclear deal with the participation of the United States, and the lifting of economic sanctions, something “it has been doing for some time in violation of the JCPOA limits.”
However, the analysts believe this move won’t necessarily affect the Vienna talks, which are currently in a deadlock for two main reasons.
The first reason has to do with the crisis in Ukraine.
Porat noted that, until recently, the Russian envoy to Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, was instrumental in extracting more and more US sanctions relief for Iran.
“Following talks between Iran and Moscow over the past few weeks there seems to be an agreement between the two sides on how to work around this problem. But the Americans need to agree to that arrangement,” he added.
The second reason is the Iranian demand that the US remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from its list of terrorist organizations.
This has raised opposition among US allies in the Middle East such as Israel and some of the Gulf countries.
Iran seeks the lifting of the economic sanctions that put the Islamic Republic in a delicate situation concerning its stability.
At the same time, Porat said, “the ayatollahs have no intention to let go of their goal to achieve at least a nuclear threshold state status, gradually but surely, defying international pressures and UN monitoring. As of now, Iran is very close to reaching this goal.”
The Biden administration has made clear since the beginning of negotiations that its goal is to cut a deal with Tehran.
That is why, Brodsky said, “I don’t think that this will be a deal-breaker in the talks.”
I think that this is a sign that things are progressing in Vienna toward a deal
He added, however, that it does raise questions about Iranian intentions and oversight of these new facilities – especially the underground construction at Natanz.
Porat thinks that, with the issues now arising with Russia and with the IRGC, moving the centrifuge manufacturing equipment is relatively insignificant, and definitely not a deal-breaker from Washington’s point of view.
Wakim, on the other hand, said it is actually a step toward the success of the talks. “I think that this is a sign that things are progressing in Vienna toward a deal,” he said.
“The US might positively respond to this Iranian move and might be encouraged to strike a deal, especially prior to the congressional elections [in November] so that [President Joe] Biden can use it to improve the lot of the Democrats,” he added.
Porat described the issue rather as “just one in a long chain in Iran’s relentless effort spanning more than two decades to get the A-bomb.”