Natanz nuclear facility
Natanz nuclear facility Reuters

Iran’s new workshop at Natanz for making parts for centrifuges, machines that enrich uranium, has been set up underground, UN nuclear watchdog chief Rafael Grossi said on Thursday, according to Reuters.

The workshop uses machines from a now-closed facility at Karaj that suffered what Tehran claimed was a sabotage attack by Israel. The workshop can make parts essential to advanced centrifuges that are among the most efficient in Iran’s enrichment program.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) informed its member states two weeks ago that Iran had moved the machines to Natanz without specifying where at the site.

Grossi told a news conference on Thursday the workshop had been set up in “one of the halls” of the FEP. Diplomats say the plant is roughly three floors below ground, possibly to protect it from potential air strikes.

Until now Iran has used the FEP only for enrichment. It is the one facility where the 2015 nuclear deal with major powers allows Iran to produce enriched uranium, but only with its first-generation IR-1 centrifuges, which are far less efficient than Iran’s more advanced models.

The latest development comes as the nuclear talks between Iran and world powers on a return to the 2015 deal continue to stall.

Iran has gradually scaled back its compliance with the 2015 deal, in response to former US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement in May of 2018, but has held several rounds of indirect talks with the US on a return to the agreement.

Negotiations nearly reached completion last month before Moscow demanded that its trade with Iran be exempted from Western sanctions over Ukraine, throwing the process into disarray.

Days later, Moscow said it had received the necessary guarantees.

On Monday, Iran called for a new meeting "as soon as possible" in the nuclear talks.

"It is appropriate that a face-to-face meeting is held as soon as possible," foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told his weekly press conference, according to the AFP news agency.

"It is not yet decided where and when to have this meeting and at what level it should be held, but it is on the agenda," he added.

Meanwhile, the Israel Hayom newspaper reported on Tuesday that Israel's political echelon estimates that the chance of the US signing an agreement with Iran is dropping "at an increasing rate".

Two sources in the political echelon told the newspaper that as of now, it seems that the chance of an agreement is low and possibly even nil.

Those sources emphasized that there still may be a surprising turn of events, at the end of which an agreement is signed, but according to one of them, "the chance that the sides will sign an agreement in the foreseeable future is moving further away, at an exponential rate."