Iran to complete nuclear centrifuge facility in month, official says

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Iran says it is preparing to increase uranium enrichment capacity if nuclear agreement collapses

IAEA inspectors at Iran's nuclear facilities in May 2016 (AFP)
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Thursday 7 June 2018 2:42 UTC
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A facility in Iran's Natanz nuclear plant to build advanced centrifuges will be completed in a month, Iran's nuclear chief said on Wednesday, as Tehran prepares to increase its uranium-enrichment capacity if the nuclear deal collapses amid the US exit.

"After the supreme leader's order we prepared this centre within 48 hours. We hope the facility to be completed in a month," Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, said on Wednesday over state television.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Monday he had ordered preparations to increase uranium enrichment capacity if the nuclear agreement with world powers collapses.

"From some European countries we get the message that they expect the Iranian people to both tolerate the sanctions, deal with the sanctions, and go along with them and give up our nuclear energy activities and continue with the restrictions," Khamenei told an audience in a Tehran suburb.

"I would tell these countries that they should be aware that this is a dream that will never come true."

EU representatives have been trying to salvage the deal after US President Donald Trump withdrew from it last month. Still, facing the prospect of US sanctions, several European companies have cast doubt over their commitment to doing business with Tehran.

French energy giant Total said last month that it may quit a multi-billion-dollar gas project if it cannot secure a waiver from US sanctions. Tehran had repeatedly hailed the project as a symbol of the nuclear accord's success.

On Wednesday, France, the United Kingdom, Germany and the EU sent the US a joint official request for their companies to be exempt from punitive measures resulting from fresh US sanctions on Iran.

"As allies, we expect that the United States will refrain from taking action to harm Europe's security interests," said the letter to US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said the three countries and the EU were asking the US "to exempt European businesses doing legitimate trade in Iran from all extraterritorial American sanctions".

"Those businesses must be able to pursue their activities," he wrote on Twitter.

European leaders have strongly condemned Washington's decision to pull out of the accord, which saw Tehran significantly scale back its nuclear programme in exchange for lifting economic sanctions.

At a meeting of EU leaders last month, Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, said: "Looking at the latest decisions of President Trump, someone could even think: With friends like that, who needs enemies?"