While the extent of the damage from the April 11 sabotage remains unclear, it comes as Iran tries to negotiate with world powers over allowing the US to re-enter its tattered nuclear deal with world powers and lift the economic sanctions it faces.
Already, Iran has begun enriching uranium up to 60% purity in response – three times higher than ever before, though in small quantities. The sabotage and Iran’s response to it also has further inflamed tensions across the Mideast, where a shadow war between Tehran and Israel, the prime suspect in the sabotage, still rages.
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 he was born in the nearby city of Kashan, Iran.
The report did not elaborate how Karimi would have gotten access to one of the most secure facilities in the Islamic Republic.
The report also aired what appeared to be an Interpol “red notice” seeking his arrest. The arrest notice was not immediately accessible on Interpol’s public-facing 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 elaborating. The supposed Interpol “red notice” listed his travel history as including Spain, the United Arab Emirates, Kenya, Ethiopia, Qatar, Turkey, Uganda, Romania and another country that was illegible in the broadcast.
The report also showed centrifuges in a hall, as well as what appeared to be caution tape up at the Natanz facility.
In Vienna, negotiations continued over the deal Saturday. The 2015 accord, which former President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US 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.
Iran insists its nuclear programme is peaceful, though the West and the IAEA say Tehran had an organised military nuclear programme up until the end of 2003. An annual US intelligence report released Tuesday maintained the longtime American assessment that Iran isn’t currently trying to build a nuclear bomb.
Iran previously had said it could use uranium enriched up to 60% for nuclear-powered ships. However, the Islamic Republic currently has no such ships in its navy.
The attack at Natanz was initially described only as a blackout in its electrical grid – but later Iranian officials began calling it an attack.
One Iranian official referred to “several thousand centrifuges damaged and destroyed” in a state TV interview. However, no other official has offered that figure and no images of the aftermath have been released.