Iran reportedly foils sabotage attack on civilian nuclear facility
Authorities in Iran claim to have thwarted a “sabotage attack” targeting a civilian nuclear facility near the country’s capital, Iranian media have reported, as details about the incident remained scarce.
A website believed to be close to Iran’s supreme national security council, Nournews, said the move was foiled “before causing any casualties or damage” to the sprawling centre located in Karaj city, 25 miles west of Tehran.
It said authorities were investigating the cause of the sabotage, without saying how it was carried out. Iranian officials asked for comment referred to the Nournews report.
Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization describes the Karaj Nuclear Centre for Medicine and Agriculture as a facility founded in 1974 that uses nuclear technology to improve “quality of soil, water, agricultural and livestock production”. The area is located near various industrial sites, including pharmaceutical production facilities where Iran has manufactured its domestic coronavirus vaccine.
The reported sabotage follows several suspected attacks targeting Iran’s nuclear programme in recent months, as diplomatic efforts gain traction in Vienna to resurrect Tehran’s 2015 deal with world powers.
What is the Iran nuclear deal?
In July 2015, Iran and a six-nation negotiating group reached a landmark agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that ended a 12-year deadlock over Tehran’s nuclear programme. The deal, struck in Vienna after nearly two years of intensive talks, limited the Iranian programme, to reassure the rest of the world that it cannot develop nuclear weapons, in return for sanctions relief.
At its core, the JCPOA is a straightforward bargain: Iran’s acceptance of strict limits on its nuclear programme in return for an escape from the sanctions that grew up around its economy over a decade prior to the accord. Under the deal, Iran unplugged two-thirds of its centrifuges, shipped out 98% of its enriched uranium and filled its plutonium production reactor with concrete. Tehran also accepted extensive monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has verified 10 times since the agreement, and as recently as February, that Tehran has complied with its terms. In return, all nuclear-related sanctions were lifted in January 2016, reconnecting Iran to global markets.
The six major powers involved in the nuclear talks with Iran were in a group known as the P5+1: the UN security council’s five permanent members – China, France, Russia, the UK and the US – and Germany. The nuclear deal is also enshrined in a UN security council resolution that incorporated it into international law. The 15 members of the council at the time unanimously endorsed the agreement.
On 8 May 2018, US president Donald Trump pulled his country out of the deal. Iran announced its partial withdrawal from the nuclear deal a year later. Trump’s successor, Joe Biden, has said that the US could return to the deal if Iran fulfilled its obligations.
Saeed Kamali Dehghan, Iran correspondent
Iran’s underground Natanz nuclear facility experienced a mysterious blackout in April that damaged some of its centrifuges. Last July, mysterious fires struck the advanced centrifuge assembly plant at Natanz, which authorities later described as sabotage. Iran is rebuilding that facility deep inside a nearby mountain.
Israel is widely believed to have carried out the July sabotage, though it has not claimed it. Iran also blamed Israel for the November killing of a scientist who began the country’s military nuclear programme decades earlier.
The decision by the former US president Donald Trump to withdraw from the deal and impose sanctions has led Iran, over time, to abandon all limitations on uranium enrichment. The country is now enriching uranium to 60%, its highest-ever levels, although still short of weapons grade.
Iran has said its nuclear ambitions are peaceful and that it will return to its commitments once the US lifts its sanctions.