Russia suspends research project at Iranian nuclear site after Tehran resumes uranium enrichment in response to US pressure

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The Russian research project at Iran’s Fordow nuclear site has been put on hold, after Tehran resumed uranium enrichment. The US earlier said it will be revoking the sanctions waiver for the facility.

TVEL, a company that is part of Russia’s atomic agency Rosatom, said on Thursday that its work to convert Fordow to the production of radioactive isotopes for medical purposes has been suspended.

“The enrichment of uranium and the production of stable isotopes can’t be carried out in the same space, since trace amounts of uranium, incompatible with the use of the resulting isotopes for medical purposes, will inevitably appear in the air and on the equipment,” TVEL said in a statement.

In order for the project to resume, the hardware used for uranium enrichment has to be dismantled and the facility decontaminated, TVEL said, adding that it notified the Iranian side of the situation.

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Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov pointed on Thursday that Moscow wasn’t giving up on the project, specifying that “the work wasn’t abandoned, but only halted.”

“We’ll need some time to analyze the options in this situation and the potential negative aftermath of those American measures,” Ryabkov said, referring to the US decision to stop exempting Fordow from its anti-Iran sanctions starting December 15.

Iran has been rolling back on some of its commitments under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in recent months, after US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US last year from the landmark international deal, under which Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

Trump has since introduced new economic restrictions against Iran and increased the US military presence in the Persian Gulf, in order to force Tehran to negotiate a new agreement that would also include its ballistic missile program.

Tehran has been reluctant to give in to the US pressure, however. As part of Iranian response to the sanctions, uranium enrichment at Fordow was resumed in early November.

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Russia and Iran have been cooperating since 2017 to modify Fordow for the production of radioactive isotopes of tellurium and xenon for medical use, in accordance with the JCPOA.

Moscow and Tehran are in talks to find a way to deal with the technical complications at Fordow, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi told the Iranian Fars news agency. The deadlock at Fordow will be further discussed during the consultations between Iran and other world powers involved in the deal in Vienna on Friday.

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