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Iran says Natanz nuclear site hit by terrorism - TV

Parisa Hafezi
·3 min read
FILE PHOTO: A view of the Natanz uranium enrichment facility 250 km (155 miles) south of the Iranian capital Tehran

By Parisa Hafezi

DUBAI (Reuters) - An incident at Iran's Natanz nuclear facility on Sunday was caused by an act of "nuclear terrorism", the country's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said, according to state TV, adding that Tehran reserves the right to take action against the perpetrators.

Israel's Kan public radio cited intelligence sources, whose nationality it did not disclose, as saying that Israel's Mossad spy agency had carried out a cyber attack at the site. There was no official Israeli comment on the incident.

Earlier on Sunday, the spokesman for Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation (AEOI) had said that a problem with the electrical distribution grid of the Natanz site had caused an incident, Iranian media reported.

The spokesman, Behrouz Kamalvandi, said the incident caused no casualties or contamination.

The incident took place a day after Tehran launched new advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges at the site. The facility, located in the desert in the central province of Isfahan, is the centrepiece of Iran's uranium enrichment programme and is monitored by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

"While condemning this despicable move, Iran emphasizes the need for the international community and the International Atomic Energy Agency to deal with this nuclear terrorism and reserves the right to take action against the perpetrators," Salehi said. He did not elaborate.

Asked about the incident, an IAEA spokesman said by email, "We are aware of the media reports. We have no comment at this stage."

Kan Radio, citing the intelligence sources, said the damage at Natanz was more extensive than had been reported in Iran.

In July last year, a fire broke out at the facility, which Iran said was an attempt to sabotage the country's nuclear programme.

In 2010, the Stuxnet computer virus, widely believed to have been developed by the United States and Israel, was discovered after it was used to attack Natanz.

The incident at the Natanz facility comes amid efforts by Tehran and Washington to revive Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with major powers after former U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned it three years ago. Trump reimposed sanctions that had been lifted on the Islamic Republic under the deal, and brought in many more.

In reaction to the U.S. sanctions, Iran has gradually breached many restrictions imposed by the accord. The two nations laid out tough stances at indirect talks in Vienna last week on how to bring both back into full compliance with the deal.

On a visit to Israel on Sunday, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin did not comment specifically on Iran after talks with his Israeli counterpart. Israeli officials have long threatened last-ditch military action against Iran if they deem foreign diplomacy a dead-end.

IRAN-ISRAEL TENSIONS

"The action taken against the Natanz site shows the failure of the opposition to Iran's industrial and political progress to prevent the significant development of Iran's nuclear industry," Salehi said.

"To thwart the goals of those who commanded this terrorist act ... Iran will continue to improve its nuclear technology on the one hand and to lift oppressive U.S. sanctions on the other hand," he said.

Iran has blamed Israel for last year’s killing of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who was seen by Western intelligence services as the mastermind of a covert Iranian nuclear weapons programme.

Tehran has denied seeking to build a nuclear bomb.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the killing.

President Hassan Rouhani reiterated Iran's commitment to nuclear non-proliferation on Saturday while overseeing the launch of advanced centrifuges at the Natanz plant to mark the country's National Nuclear Technology Day.

(Additional reporting by Francois Murphy in Vienna and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Susan Fenton, Raissa Kasolowsky, William Maclean and Frances Kerry)