The White House warned Thursday that Iran's decision to install more modern equipment at its Natanz nuclear plant was a “further escalation” in the showdown over its atomic program.
“The installation of new advanced centrifuges is a further escalation and a continuing violation ... of Iran's obligations under relevant United Nations Security Council and IAEA board resolutions,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
A document seen by AFP on Thursday shows that Iran intends to install more modern equipment at Natanz, one of its main nuclear sites.
The U.N. atomic agency document said that Iran informed it in a letter dated January 23 that “centrifuge machines type IR2m will be used in Unit A-22” at the Fuel Enrichment Plant (FEP) at Natanz.
A Vienna diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity that the new machines would likely be used to enrich uranium to fissile purities of five percent.
“So far they are mostly only enriching to five percent at Natanz, so it would be a surprise if Iran came back and said it was for 20 percent,” the diplomat said.
Of greater concern than Natanz is Iran's Fordo site, which enriches uranium to 20-percent purities, significantly closer to the 90-percent level needed for a bomb.
Enriched uranium can be used for peaceful purposes such as in atomic power stations - Iran currently has one functioning plant -- but also, in highly-enriched form, for a nuclear bomb.
Because of concerns that Iran may be seeking to develop nuclear weapons, something it denies, numerous U.N. Security Council resolutions have called on Tehran to suspend all enrichment activities.
Several rounds of sanctions have been imposed on Iran aimed at preventing it procuring and developing technology for its nuclear activities.
Unilateral sanctions imposed in 2012 by the United States, the European Union and others have also targeted Iran’s vital oil exports, leading to major economic problems.
Israel, which believes Iran must be prevented from reaching military nuclear capabilities at any cost and refuses to rule out military intervention to that end, warned the advanced centrifuges would edge Iran closer to nuclear arms.
“While the world is discussing where and when the next meeting with Iran will be, Iran is rapidly advancing towards obtaining a nuclear bomb,” a senior official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.
“The international community cannot allow Iran to arm itself with a nuclear weapon,” the official was quoted in the statement as saying.
The IAEA declined to comment on Thursday. The Vienna-based agency is due to release its latest quarterly updated on Iran’s atomic activities on February.