Iran on Saturday named a suspect in the April 11 attack on its Natanz nuclear facility that damaged centrifuges, saying that he had fled the country “hours before” the sabotage happened.
While the extent of the damage from the sabotage remains unclear, it comes as Iran tries to negotiate with world powers over allowing the US to re-enter its tattered nuclear deal and lift the economic sanctions it faces.
Already, Iran has begun enriching uranium up to 60 percent purity in response — three times higher than ever before — although in small quantities.
Photo: AFP / EU DELEGATION IN VIENNA
The sabotage and Iran’s response have further inflamed tensions across the Middle East, where a shadow war between Tehran and Israel, the prime suspect in the sabotage, still rages.
Iranian state television named the suspect as 43-year-old Reza Karimi.
It showed a passport-style photograph of a man it identified as Karimi, saying that he was born in the city of Kashan, near Natanz.
The report also aired what appeared to be an Interpol “red notice” seeking his arrest.
The arrest notice was not immediately accessible on the international police organization’s public database.
The France-based organization declined to comment.
The TV report said that “necessary actions” are underway to bring Karimi back to Iran through legal channels, without elaborating.
The supposed Interpol notice listed his foreign travel history as including Ethiopia, Kenya, the Netherlands, Qatar, Romania, Turkey, Uganda and the United Arab Emirates.
The report did not elaborate how Karimi would have gotten access to one of the most secure facilities in the Islamic Republic.
However, it did for the first time show authorities acknowledging that an explosion struck the Natanz facility.
There was a “limited explosion of a small part of the electricity-feeding path to the centrifuges’ hall,” the report said. “The explosion happened because of the function of explosive materials and there was no cyberattack.”
Initial reports in Israeli media, which maintain close relations to its military and intelligence services, blamed a cyberattack for the damage.
The Iranian media report also said that there were images that corroborated the account of an explosion rather than cyberattack offered by security services, but it did not broadcast those pictures.
The Iranian report also showed centrifuges in a hall, as well as what appeared to be caution tape at the Natanz facility.
In one shot, a TV reporter interviewed an unnamed technician, who was shown from behind — likely a safety measure as Iranian nuclear scientists have been assassinated in suspected Israeli-orchestrated attacks in the past.
“The sound that you are hearing is the sound of operating machines that are fortunately undamaged,” the technician said, the high-pitched whine of the centrifuges heard in the background. “Many of the centrifuge chains that faced defects are now under control. Part of the work that had been disrupted will be back on track with the round-the-clock efforts of my colleagues.”
In Vienna, negotiations on Saturday continued over the deal with another meeting of diplomats from Iran and the five powers that remain in the deal, with expert-level working groups on sanctions-lifting and nuclear issues set to continue activities through this week.
Iranian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Abbas Araghchi, the country’s negotiator, told state TV that the talks had entered a new phase, adding that Iran had proposed draft agreements that could be a basis for negotiation.
“We think that the talks have reached a stage where parties are able to begin to work on a joint draft,” Araghchi said. “It seems that a new understanding is taking shape, and now there is agreement over final goals.”
Enrique Mora, the EU diplomat who chaired the talks, wrote on Twitter that “progress has been made in a far from easy task. We need now more detailed work.”
The 2015 accord, which former US president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from in 2018, prevented Iran from stockpiling enough high-enriched uranium to be able to pursue a nuclear weapon if it chose in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
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