UN atomic watchdog raises questions of Iran's centrifuge use

Vienna, May 31 (AP) The UN atomic watchdog said Friday that Iran continues to stay within the limitations set by the 2015 nuclear deal with major powers, but reported its stockpiles of low-enriched uranium and heavy water are growing and raised questions for the first time about Iran's adherence to a key provision intended to limit the country's use of advanced centrifuges.In a confidential quarterly report distributed to member states and seen by The Associated Press, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran has stayed within key limitations set in the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, for uranium and heavy water stockpiles.But while in past reports the IAEA said Iran's research and development on enrichment "has been conducted using centrifuges within the limits defined in the JCPOA," the Friday report instead changed the wording to say it "has been conducted using centrifuges specified in the JCPOA." In a footnote, the agency said that "up to 33 IR-6 centrifuges have been installed" which could be a possible violation of the JCPOA and that "technical discussions in relation to the IR-6 centrifuges are ongoing." A centrifuge is a device that enriches uranium by rapidly spinning uranium hexafluoride gas. Under the atomic accord, Iran has been limited to operating 5,060 older-model IR-1 centrifuges. Iranian officials say the IR-6 can enrich 10 times faster than an IR-1.Under terms of the nuclear deal, Iran is allowed to test up to 30 of the IR-6 but only 8 1/2 years into the deal.A senior diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't officially allowed to comment on the report, said the technical discussions were between the deal's signatories and Iran, but would not elaborate. "It is being discussed, and we report the facts that we see," the diplomat said.The head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, said last month that his country had begun installing a chain of 20 IR-6 advanced centrifuges at its underground Natanz enrichment facility.Iran maintains that it is allowed to install the centrifuges, and the diplomat said they were not yet being fed with uranium."The feed line is under agency seal," the diplomat said, adding it was up to partner countries in the deal to determine whether the installation was a violation of the accord.The nuclear deal is meant to keep Tehran from building atomic weapons in exchange for economic incentives. It has been complicated by the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the deal last year and Washington's increased sanctions, which has been taking a toll on the Iranian economy.That has left the other signatories Germany, Britain, France, Russia and China struggling to come up with enough incentives to keep Iran in the deal.Earlier this month, Iran announced that if a way couldn't be found within 60 days to shield it from US sanctions targeting its economy and oil industry, it would ramp up its enrichment of uranium beyond the purity allowed under nuclear deal. And about a week ago, Iran said it had increased its uranium-enrichment production capacity, though only of the lower-enriched uranium permitted by the agreement.In its first quarterly report since those announcements, however, the Vienna-based IAEA found Iran continued to be in compliance and also said its inspectors had been given unfettered access to Iranian nuclear facilities."Timely and proactive cooperation by Iran in providing such access facilitates implementation of the additional protocol and enhances confidence," the report stated, referring to the procedure detailing safeguards and tools for verification. AP NSANSA