Tehran, Iran (AP) – Iran on Saturday named a suspect in the attack on its Natanz nuclear facility that damaged centrifuges there, saying it fled the country “hours before” the sabotage.
While the extent of the damage from the April 11 sabotage remains uncertain, it comes as Iran tries to negotiate with world powers to allow the United States to break into its tattered nuclear deal and lift sanctions. economic challenges it faces.
Already, Iran has started enriching uranium up to 60% purity in response – three times more than ever before, but in small amounts. Sabotage and Iran’s response to it have also heightened tensions across the Middle East, where a shadow war between Tehran and Israel, the main suspect in the sabotage, still rages on.
State television named the suspect as Reza Karimi, 43. It showed a passport-style photograph of a man identified as Karimi, claiming he was born in the nearby town of Kashan, Iran.
The report also disseminated what appeared to be a “red notice” from Interpol calling for his arrest. The arrest notice was not immediately accessible in Interpol’s public database. Interpol, based in Lyon, France, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The TV report said “necessary actions” are underway to bring Karimi back to Iran through legal channels, without giving further details. Interpol’s supposed “red notice” mentioned its history of overseas travel as including Ethiopia, Kenya, the Netherlands, Qatar, Romania, Turkey, Uganda and the United Arab Emirates.
The report did not specify how Karimi would have gained access to one of the most secure facilities in the Islamic Republic. However, he showed for the first time to authorities acknowledging that an explosion had hit Natanz’s facility.
There was “a limited explosion of a small part of the electrical supply path to the centrifuge hall,” the TV report said. “The explosion occurred because of the explosive material function and there was no cyber attack.”
Early reports in the Israeli media, which have close ties to its military and intelligence services, accused a cyberattack of the damage.
The Iranian state television report also said that there were images that corroborated the account of an explosion rather than a cyberattack offered by the security services, but it did not broadcast those images.
The report also showed centrifuges in a room, along with what appeared to be a warning tape at Natanz’s facility. In one shot, a TV reporter interviewed an anonymous technician, who was shown from behind – likely a safety measure as Iranian nuclear scientists have been murdered in alleged attacks orchestrated by Israel in the past.
“The sound you hear is the sound of running machines which luckily are not damaged,” he says, the high-pitched whine of centrifuges heard in the background. “Many centrifuge chains that have faults are now under control. Some of the work that had been interrupted will be back on track thanks to the around-the-clock efforts of my colleagues. “
In Vienna, negotiations over the deal continued on Saturday with another meeting of diplomats from Iran and the five powers that remain in the deal, with expert working groups on sanctions lifting and nuclear issues expected. continue their activities until next week.
The Iranian negotiator said on state television that the talks have entered a new phase, adding that Iran has proposed draft agreements that could be a basis for negotiations.
“We believe that the talks have reached a stage where the parties can start working on a common project,” Abbas Araghchi said. “It seems that a new understanding is taking shape, and now there is agreement on the final goals.”
Enrique Mora, the European Union official who chaired the talks, tweeted that “progress has been made in a far from easy task. Now we need more detailed work. “
The 2015 deal, from which former President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States in 2018, prevented Iran from storing enough highly enriched uranium to be able to use a nuclear weapon if it chose in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful, although the West and the IAEA say Tehran had an organized military nuclear program until the end of 2003. An annual US intelligence report released Tuesday maintained the long-standing US assessment that Iran is not currently trying to build a nuclear bomb.
Iran had previously said it could use uranium enriched up to 60% for nuclear-powered ships. However, the Islamic Republic currently has no such vessel in its navy.
Natanz’s attack was initially described only as a blackout in his power grid – but later Iranian authorities began to label it as an attack.
An Iranian official referred to “several thousand damaged and destroyed centrifuges” in an interview on public television. However, no other official has offered the figure and no pictures of the consequences have been released.
Associated Press editors Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.