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Iran Installing Advanced Centrifuges   06/14 06:11


   DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Iran has started up new cascades of 
advanced centrifuges and plans to install others in the coming weeks after 
facing criticism over its nuclear program, the United Nations' atomic watchdog 
said Friday. The U.S. called the moves "nuclear escalations."

   Spinning up new centrifuges further advances Iran's nuclear program, which 
already enriches uranium at near-weapons-grade levels and boasts a stockpile 
enough for several nuclear bombs if it chose to pursue them. However, the 
acknowledgement from the International Atomic Energy Agency did not include any 
suggestion Iran planned to go to higher enrichment levels amid wider tensions 
between Tehran and the West as the Israel-Hamas war rages in the Gaza Strip.

   The IAEA said its inspectors verified Monday that Iran had begun feeding 
uranium into three cascades of advanced IR-4 and IR-6 centrifuges at its Natanz 
enrichment facility. Cascades are a group of centrifuges that spin uranium gas 
together to more quickly enrich the uranium.

   So far, Iran has been enriching uranium in those cascades up to 2% purity. 
Iran already enriches uranium up to 60%, a short, technical step away from 
weapons-grade levels of 90%.

   Iran also plans to install 18 cascades of IR-2m centrifuges at Natanz and 
eight cascades of IR-6 centrifuges at its Fordo nuclear site. Each of these 
classes of centrifuges enrich uranium faster than Iran's baseline IR-1 
centrifuges, which remain the workhorse of the country's atomic program.

   Tehran did not immediately acknowledge the decision. However, it comes after 
Iran threatened to take action following a vote earlier this month at the 
IAEA's Board of Governors that censured Iran for failing to cooperate fully 
with the agency.

   The decision immediately drew criticism from State Department spokesman 
Matthew Miller.

   "Iran aims to continue expanding its nuclear program in ways that have no 
credible peaceful purpose," Miller said in a statement. "These planned actions 
further undermine Iran's claims to the contrary. If Iran implements these 
plans, we will respond accordingly."

   Miller did not elaborate on what steps the U.S. and its allies might take. 
However, Iran already faces grinding economic sanctions from Washington and 
others that have deeply cut into its economy and sent its rial currency 
tumbling over recent years.

   Since the collapse of Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers following 
the U.S.' unilateral withdraw from the accord in 2018, it has pursued nuclear 
enrichment just below weapons-grade levels. U.S. intelligence agencies and 
others assess that Iran has yet to begin a weapons program.

   Iran, as a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear 
Weapons, has pledged to allow the IAEA to visit its atomic sites to ensure its 
program is peaceful. Tehran also agreed to additional oversight from the IAEA 
as part of the 2015 nuclear deal. However, for years it has curtailed 
inspectors' access to sites while also not fully answering questions about 
other sites where nuclear material has been found in the past.

   The IAEA's director-general, Rafael Mariano Grossi, visited Iran in May in 
an effort to boost inspections, but there hasn't been any major public change 
in Iran's stance.

   All this comes as the Islamic Republic also appears to be trying to contain 
the risk it faces from the U.S. after launching an unprecedented attack on 
Israel. The assault -- a response to a suspected Israeli strike on April 1 
which killed two Guard generals and others in Damascus, Syria -- has pushed a 
yearslong shadow war between Israel and Iran out into the open.

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