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Iran Testing New Advanced Centrifuge   04/10 12:34


   TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran said Saturday it has begun mechanical tests on its 
newest advanced nuclear centrifuge, even as the five world powers that remain 
in a foundering 2015 nuclear deal with Iran attempt to bring the U.S. back into 
the agreement.

   Iran's IR-9 centrifuge, when operational, would have the ability to separate 
uranium isotopes more quickly than the current centrifuges being used, thereby 
enriching uranium at a faster pace. The announcement carried on state TV came 
on Iran's 15th annual "Nuclear Day."

   The IR-9's output is 50 times quicker than the first Iranian centrifuge, the 
IR-1. The country also announced it had launched a chain of 164 IR-6 
centrifuges on Saturday, and is also developing IR-8 centrifuges.

   Since January, Iran has begun enriching uranium at up to 20% purity, a 
technical step away from weapons-grade levels, though Iran's leadership insists 
the country has no desire to develop a nuclear weapon.

   Former U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear accord 
in 2018, accusing Iran of failing to live up to the agreement, opting for what 
he called a maximum-pressure campaign of stepped-up U.S. sanctions and other 
tough actions.

   Iran responded by intensifying its enrichment of uranium and building 
centrifuges in plain violation of the accord, while insisting that its nuclear 
development is for civilian not military purposes.

   Israel maintains Iran still maintains the ambition of developing nuclear 
weapons, pointing to Tehran's ballistic missile program and research into other 
technologies. Tehran denies it is pursuing nuclear weapons, and says its 
nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

   Iran also announced that it has finished repairs on an advanced centrifuge 
assembly plant that was destroyed by a mysterious explosion in July, state-run 
IRNA news agency reported.

   Iran has blamed Israel for a recent series of attacks, including the 
explosion at the Natanz nuclear facility as well as another one in November 
that killed top scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. He had founded the Islamic 
Republic's military nuclear program two decades ago.

   Iran's stockpile of 20% enriched uranium has reached 55 kilograms (121 
pounds), moving its nuclear program closer to weapons-grade enrichment levels. 
The amount of the material was 17 kilograms in January.

   Iran has installed 1,000 IR2 centrifuge machines and one cascade of 164 IR4 
machines. Both are in operation and have more speed than the IR1 machines.

   Since late February, Iran has ceased abiding by a confidential agreement 
with the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog reached as part of the landmark 2015 nuclear 
deal. The International Atomic Energy Agency has additional protocols with 
several countries it monitors.

   Under the protocol with Iran, the IAEA "collects and analyzes hundreds of 
thousands of images captured daily by its sophisticated surveillance cameras," 
the agency said in 2017. The agency also said then that it had placed "2,000 
tamper-proof seals on nuclear material and equipment."

   However, Iran's parliament passed a bill in December requiring the 
government to limit its cooperation with the IAEA and push its nuclear program 
beyond the limits of the 2015 nuclear deal. After the bill became law, Iran 
then began enriching uranium up to 20% purity and spinning advanced centrifuges 
-- both barred by the deal.

   Iran argues that the U.S.'s departure from the nuclear deal was the first 
violation of the deal by either county and therefore the U.S. must make the 
first move and remove sanctions before Iran returns to compliance.

   President Joe Biden came into office saying that getting back into the 
accord and getting Iran's nuclear program back under international restrictions 
was a priority. But Iran and the United States have disagreed over Iran's 
demands that sanctions be lifted first. That deadlock has threatened to become 
an early foreign policy setback for the new U.S. president.

   Talks in Vienna aimed at bringing the U.S. back into the deal with Iran 
broke Friday without any immediate signs of progress on issues dividing 
Washington and Tehran.

   However, delegates spoke of a constructive atmosphere and resolved to 
continue the discussions.

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