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‘Sabotage’ behind Natanz nuclear site blast, says Iran

Iran's Atomic Energy Organization said on Sunday that "sabotage" was the cause of an explosion that damaged the Natanz nuclear facility last month.

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Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization said on Sunday that “sabotage” was the cause of an explosion that damaged the Natanz nuclear facility last month.

“Security investigations confirm this was sabotage and what is certain is that an explosion took place in Natanz,” said spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi.

Method’ of sabotage to be announced still

“But how this explosion took place and with what materials… will be announced by security officials in due course,” he was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.

Iran said after the July 2 incident that it had determined its cause but declined to release details due to “security concerns”.

Natanz governor Ramezan-Ali Ferdowsi said a fire had broken out at the site, but the country’s atomic agency said it caused no casualties or radioactive pollution.

Read more: Iran’s unrestrained nuclear ambition

At the time, IRNA published an editorial warning Iran’s arch-foes against hostile actions, saying unnamed Israeli social media accounts had claimed the Jewish state was behind it.

Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization has said an explosion last month that damaged the country’s Natanz nuclear facility was the result of “sabotage”.

“Security investigations confirm this was sabotage and what is certain is that an explosion took place in Natanz,” spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said on Sunday.

“But how this explosion took place and with what materials … will be announced by security officials in due course,” he was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.

The Natanz uranium enrichment site, much of which is underground, is one of several Iranian facilities monitored by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog.

Iran’s top security body said after the blast on July 2 that the cause had been determined but would be announced later “for security reasons”. Officials said the incident had caused significant damage that could slow the development of advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges.

Some Iranian officials have previously said the explosion may have been the result of cyber-sabotage, warning that Tehran would retaliate against any country carrying out such attacks.

An article by Iran’s state news agency IRNA in July addressed what it called the possibility of sabotage by enemies such as Israel and the United States, although it stopped short of accusing either directly.

Israeli officials declined to comment on Sunday.

IAEA head visit

Natanz is the centrepiece of Iran’s enrichment programme, which Tehran says is only for peaceful purposes. Western intelligence agencies and the IAEA believe it had a coordinated, clandestine nuclear arms programme that it halted in 2003.

Tehran denies ever seeking nuclear weapons.

Iran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for the removal of most international sanctions in a deal reached between Tehran and six world powers in 2015.

But Tehran has gradually reduced its commitments to the accord since US President Donald Trump’s administration withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and reimposed and intensified sanctions that have battered Iran’s economy.

The deal only allows Iran to enrich uranium at Natanz facility, with just over 5,000 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges.

On Monday, IAEA head Rafael Mariano Grossi will visit Iran for the first time since taking up the role in December last year.

The IAEA said in a statement Grossi will address Iran’s cooperation with the agency, particularly access for its inspectors to certain sites.

“My objective is that my meetings in Tehran will lead to concrete progress in addressing the outstanding questions that the agency has related to safeguards in Iran and, in particular, to resolve the issue of access,” Grossi said.

“I also hope to establish a fruitful and cooperative channel of direct dialogue with the Iranian government which will be valuable now and in the future.”

The incident came six days after an explosion near a military complex rocked Tehran.

Read more: Israel behind Iran nuclear ‘accident’? Israelis think so

The blast in the Parchin area southeast of the Iranian capital was due to “leaking gas tanks”, the defence ministry said.

The Islamic republic resumed uranium enrichment at the Natanz complex, in central Iran, in September last year.

The move came after the United States unilaterally withdrew in 2018 from an international accord that gave Iran relief from sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.

Read more: Iran threatens to leave nuclear deal if US imposes arms embargo

Tehran has always denied its nuclear programme has any military dimension.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk