Iran has agreed to have the International Atomic Energy Agency – the United Nations organization that monitors global civilian and military nuclear activities – install cameras at its Natanz nuclear site.
Natanz has long been home to uranium enrichment centrifuges, devices designed to spin at high speeds, using centrifugal force to concentrate uranium to levels where it could be further enriched for use in a nuclear weapon.
The site is believed to have suffered several sabotage attempts by Israelis or people working on behalf of the Israeli government, and much of the site is hidden underground to protect it from air attacks.
Israel has not commented on alleged sabotage attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities. Iran also accused Israel of sabotaging a separate nuclear facility in Karaj in June last year, damaging cameras that had been installed by the IAEA.
Iran then refused to allow IAEA access to the Karaj site.
The deal is a rare breakthrough in stalled talks in Vienna between Iran, the EU, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany.
Talks on restoring the 2015 nuclear deal, under which most sanctions on Iran were lifted in exchange for nuclear inspectors access to atomic research and development sites, have stalled despite repeated assurances from Iranian, Russian and European diplomats that a breakthrough could be near.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24 further complicated the talks, as Washington, Europe and Asian allies including Japan and South Korea imposed tough trade sanctions on Russia. Moscow briefly tied any support for a nuclear deal to easing sanctions on itself and Iran.
The IAEA said it installed cameras and removed seals from machines in the Natanz workshop on Tuesday. These machines will be used to manufacture centrifuge tubes and rotor bellows, crucial parts for the devices.
Later Thursday, Iranian media acknowledged the installation of the cameras and said all of their footage would be held by Iran – and not passed to the IAEA – during the stalemate over the nuclear deal.
Iran has held IAEA surveillance camera footage since February 2021 as a pressure tactic to reinstate the nuclear deal.
On Wednesday, “Iran informed the agency that the machines would start operating in the new workshop on the same day,” the IAEA said. He did not specify the location of Natanz’s workshop, a large facility that includes laboratories and enrichment halls buried underground to protect them from airstrikes.
Natanz became a flashpoint of Western fears over Iran’s nuclear program in 2002, when satellite photos showed Iran was building an underground facility at the site, some 200 kilometers south of the capital, Tehran.
Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. However, US intelligence agencies and the IAEA believe Iran had an organized military nuclear program until 2003.
In July 2020, Natanz was on the tail end of an attack that blew up a centrifuge assembly building. In April 2021, a sabotage in its underground halls destroyed centrifuges. Iran has since started building a new extension to Natanz in a nearby mountain, said to further protect the site.
Israel, also suspected of killing a scientist who founded Iran’s military nuclear program, has hinted that it carried out the Natanz attacks.
The installation of the camera comes as efforts to restore the nuclear deal, under which Tehran limited its enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions, appear to have stalled in the face of an Iranian demand that America remove the Revolutionary Guards from the list of terrorist organizations.
Despite Iran’s repeated claims that a separate deal would unfreeze billions of dollars in assets, the State Department reiterated that no deal is imminent on a prisoner swap or the nuclear deal .
“Our partners have not released these restricted funds to Iran, nor has the United States authorized or approved any such transfer of restricted funds to Iran,” the State Department said Wednesday. .
Updated: April 14, 2022, 2:21 p.m.