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Iran resumes uranium enrichment at its underground Fordow plant

Hassan Rouhani says the decision is 'reversible', as Tehran continues to respond to US withdrawal from 2015 nuclear deal
An Iranian technician works at the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facilities (UCF), 420 kms south of Tehran (File: AFP)

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has said Tehran will start injecting uranium gas into centrifuges at its Fordow facility, rolling back another commitment from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal the United States withdrew from last year.

In a televised speech on Tuesday, Rouhani said 1,044 machines at the plant would be injected with uranium gas as of Wednesday, the fourth step it has taken in uranium enrichment since July.

Under the nuclear deal signed in 2015 by Iran, the US, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia, Tehran was offered more than $110bn a year in sanctions relief and a return to the global economy in exchange for halting its drive for a nuclear weapon.

But Washington's abandonment of the deal in May last year, followed by its re-imposition of crippling sanctions, prompted Iran to begin a phased suspension of its own commitments.

Trump has said he is willing to negotiate a new agreement that would place indefinite curbs on Iran's nuclear programme and also halt its development of ballistic missiles. 

Tehran has said it will not negotiate with Trump until sanctions are lifted, saying its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful and that.

Analysts say Iran's current enriched uranium levels are far short of the standard 90 percent threshold needed for "weapons-grade" uranium.

Iran is believed to produce five kilograms of low-enriched uranium a day at a level of 4.5 percent.

'Reversible'

In his address, Rouhani said that all of the steps Iran has taken were "reversible" and that Tehran would uphold all of its commitments under the deal when the remaining signatories did the same. 

"We know their sensitivity with regard to Fordow… but at the same time when they uphold their commitments we will cut off the gas," he said.

Rouhani added that Iran wanted to return to a situation in which "we can easily sell our oil, we can easily use our money in banks".

If that were achieved, "we will completely go back to the previous situation".

"We can't unilaterally accept that we completely fulfil our commitments and they don't follow up on their commitments," the president added.

Uranium graphic

Russia said while it was concerned by Iran's latest move, it would like the deal to remain in place.

"We are monitoring the development of the situation with concern," President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. "We support the preservation of this deal."

EU 'committed' to nuclear deal

European governments have struggled to come up with a mechanism that would allow foreign firms to continue to do business with Iran without incurring US penalties.

Maja Kocijancic, the spokeswoman for EU diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini, said the bloc "remains committed" to the nuclear deal.

"We have continued to urge Iran to reverse such steps without delay and to refrain from other measures that would undermine the nuclear deal," Kocijancic told reporters in Brussels.

"But we have also been consistent in saying that our commitment to the nuclear deal depends on full compliance by Iran."

Iran has two vast enrichment sites, one at Natanz and the other at Fordow. Much of Natanz is deep underground and Fordow is buried inside a mountain, which is widely believed to protect them from aerial bombardment.