Iran says suspect behind Natanz plant attack identified

Iranian authorities name 43-year-old Reza Karimi as the perpetrator behind the nuclear plant attack, say he has fled the country.

The portrait of a man identified as Reza Karimi as shown on Iranian state media [File: IRIB via AP Photo]

Iran has said it identified a suspect in connection with a recent explosion and power outage at its main Natanz nuclear plant, as talks got under way in Austria’s capital to try to save the country’s nuclear deal with world powers.

State television said the 43-year-old man named Reza Karimi had fled Iran before last Sunday’s blast that it has blamed on archrival Israel.

It showed what it said was a photograph of the suspected perpetrator on a red card that had “Interpol Wanted” written on it.

“Necessary steps are underway for his arrest and return to the country through legal channels,” the report added.

Israel has not officially accepted responsibility for the attack but has imposed no censorship restrictions on its wide coverage by local media, some of which has explicitly said Israel’s spy agency Mossad was responsible.

The attack at Iran’s main nuclear facilities led to a large blackout and damaged an unknown number of centrifuges.

State television on Saturday also aired footage of rows of what it said were centrifuges that had replaced the ones damaged in the blast at the Natanz uranium enrichment plant.

The report added that “a large number” of centrifuges whose enrichment activity was disrupted by the explosion had been returned to normal service.

Meanwhile, officials from the remaining parties to the 2015 nuclear deal – Iran, China, Russia, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, together with the European Union – concluded a formal meeting in Vienna on a hopeful note, with different parties saying progress was being made.

Representatives from the United States, which unilaterally left the accord in 2018 and imposed sanctions on Iran, were again in a different hotel with Europeans shuttling back and forth between them and other representatives.

The agreement 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.

After the talks, Iran’s top negotiator said a “new understanding” appears to be forming between all sides as the results of the job done by two working groups – one to determine what sanctions the US needs to lift, and one to determine what nuclear measures Iran needs to take – were reviewed.

“There is now a shared view of the end goal between all sides and the path that needs to be taken is a bit better known,” said Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister and a veteran negotiator.

“Although it won’t be an easy path. There are some serious differences that will need to be resolved,” he added.

Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi said the country began production of 60 percent enriched uranium on Friday. Iran has said it wants to use it to produce molybdenum to ultimately manufacture radiopharmaceuticals.

Iran had previously boosted its uranium enrichment to 20 percent following the assassination of a top nuclear and military scientist, Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, in November. The nuclear deal caps the country’s enrichment at 3.67 percent. Enrichment of 90 percent is required for weapons-grade use.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is peaceful, though Western countries and the UN’s nuclear watchdog say Tehran had an organised military nuclear programme up until the end of 2003. An annual US intelligence report released on Tuesday maintained the longtime US assessment that Iran is not currently trying to build a nuclear bomb.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies