10:05 GMT14 May 2021
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    Tensions have been running high in the region for several months already, as both the United States and Iran have failed to resume compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. Tehran has insisted that Washington - since it was the one that left the agreement in 2018 - has to lift sanctions first.

    It is important to focus not on current difficulties but on the restoration of the Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Russia's permanent representative to international organizations in Vienna, Mikhail Ulyanov, said on Wednesday.

    The Russian diplomat referred to an earlier statement Iranian Ambassador to international organizations in Vienna Kazem Gharibabadi, who said that the Islamic Republic hopes to get 60 percent enriched uranium next week. 

    Iran officially informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of its intentions to begin enrichment of uranium to 60 percent at the Natanz nuclear facility, according to a statement from the agency's spokesperson available to Sputnik.

    ​Earlier, Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said preparations for uranium enrichment to 60 percent would begin on April 13 at the nuclear facility in Natanz, where an act of sabotage had occurred and where disabled IR-1 centrifuges would be replaced with more powerful ones of the same type.

    On April 11, Iran reported an incident at the Natanz nuclear plant that affected the facility's electricity distribution network in what Iran's vice president and atomic energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi described as "nuclear terrorism." AEOI chief Ali Akbar Salehi described the incident as "nuclear terrorism." Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Tehran believes that Israel is behind the recent sabotage actions at the facility.
    A view of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility 250 km (155 miles) south of the Iranian capital Tehran, in this Maxar Technologies satellite image taken last week and obtained by Reuters on April 12, 2021.
    A view of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility 250 km (155 miles) south of the Iranian capital Tehran, in this Maxar Technologies satellite image taken last week and obtained by Reuters on April 12, 2021.

    A US official confirmed to The New York Times on Sunday that there was "an Israeli role" in the power outage at Natanz. Intelligence officials told the newspaper that the damage at Natanz was caused by an explosion that destroyed the plant’s internal power system which supplies uranium enrichment centrifuges. 

    It could take at least nine months to eliminate the damage done by the blast, the newspaper also claimed.

    Meanwhile, Israel’s Kan channel reported citing intelligence sources on Sunday that the Natanz facility was subjected to a cyberattack involving Israel's foreign intelligence service Mossad.

    Commenting on the events, Russia's envoy in Vienna Ulyanov said that organizers of a sabotage attack at the Natanz nuclear facility have underestimated its consequences.

    "Those who undertook an act of sabotage against the nuclear facility in Natanz probably wanted to undermine the process of #JCPOA [the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] restoration. They underestimated the possibility of significant "side effects," Ulyanov tweeted.

    It also comes amid the new EU sanctions slapped on Iranian officials. According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the decision to introduce sanctions was "worse than a crime", given that it was made during the nuclear negotiations in Vienna.

    Late last week, a senior US State Department official said that Iran's demand to lift all the sanctions is a non-starter for Washington. According to the spokesperson, the negotiations in Vienna may reach an impasse if Tehran keeps insisting on its position.

    In 2015, Iran signed the JCPOA with the P5+1 group of countries. The agreement required Iran to scale back its nuclear program and downgrade its uranium reserves in exchange for sanctions relief. In 2018, the United States withdrew from the JCPOA and began imposing sanctions on Iran, the latter being in violation of the nuclear agreement. Iran retaliated by gradually abandoning its own commitments under the deal a year later.
    uranium enrichment, Vienna, US, Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran, Russia
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