The nuclear watchdog responsible for policing the Iran nuclear deal, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), confirmed in a report Monday that Iran has started enriching uranium at its underground Fordow site, in but the latest escalation in a trend which shows no sign of the sanctioned country slowing down on its vow to blow past limits set by the 2015 JCPOA.
According to the IAEA's quarterly report, Iran's enriched uranium levels and its purity "remain above the deal's limits" after months ago Iran's leaders threatened do to just this unless Washington lifts its crippling sanctions, which have left the country struggling to export its oil.
"Tehran is also enriching with more advanced centrifuges and enriching at Fordow, which the deal forbids," Reuters reports of the new findings.
This after early last week the country’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi announced on state television Iran is launching a new array of 30 advanced IR-6 centrifuges, bringing the total number to 60 IR-6 advanced centrifuges, in violation of its commitments under the nuclear deal.
Leaders in Tehran are currently feeling emboldened after President Hassan Rouhani made public in a speech on Sunday the discovery of a new oil field with over 50 billion barrels of crude in the country's south.
"I am telling the White House that in the days when you sanctioned the sale of Iranian oil and pressured our nation, the country's dear workers and engineers were able to discover 53 billion barrels of oil in a big field," Rouhani stated confidently.
But despite having the world's fourth-largest proven deposits of crude oil, now set to increase by one-third based on estimates of the new crude find in Khuzestan province, Iran has struggled to evade Washington sanctions on its energy sector and sell to other countries. Even China, once seen as a major purchaser through which Iran could weather the US "maximum pressure" storm, has also found its sanctions busting companies the target of White House punitive actions.
Underscoring the urgency of the situation, IAEA officials on Monday said "it is essential for Iran to continue interactions with the agency," after Iran also expanded its number of centrifuges enriching uranium at Natanz facility, in what could soon see the nuclear program enter a point of no return.
Specifically, according to IAEA figures cited in Bloomberg, the Islamic Republic's enriched uranium stockpile rose 65% in the last quarter to 372kg, though the deal officially restricts this to no more than 300kg. In terms of purity Iran is now believed enriching up to level of 4.5%, while the deal permits 3.67%.