Tue, 18 May 2021

The Western European powers who are party to the Iran nuclear deal have expressed 'grave concern' over Tehran's announcement that it will start enriching uranium up to 60 percent purity.

'Iran's dangerous recent communication is contrary to the constructive spirit and good faith' of ongoing efforts to revive the 2015 agreement, Britain, France, and Germany said in a joint statement on April 14.

Last week in Vienna, Iran and the global powers held what they described as 'constructive' EU-hosted talks centered on overcoming an impasse between Washington and Tehran to bring both parties into full compliance with the 2015 nuclear accord, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Further discussions are scheduled in the Austrian capital on April 15.

Despite the diplomatic efforts, Iran said on April 14 that it will start producing uranium enriched to 60 percent purity by next week following an alleged attack on the country's main Natanz nuclear site that Tehran has blamed on archenemy Israel.

SEE ALSO: Iran Launches Production Of New Centrifuges After Start Of Nuclear Talks In Vienna

The White House has said it remains committed to talks with Iran despite Tehran's 'provocative' statement that it will ramp up uranium enrichment.

Under the nuclear agreement, abandoned by the United States under former President Donald Trump, Iran had committed to keep enrichment to 3.67 percent. Recently it has been enriching up to 20 percent, saying the deal was no longer enforceable.

Enriching uranium to 60 percent would be the highest level achieved by Iran's nuclear program, although it would still be short of the 90 percent purity needed for military use. Tehran has repeatedly denied it is seeking nuclear weapons saying its nuclear ambitions are purely civilian.

Britain, France, and Germany said Tehran's decision was not based on credible civilian reasons and constituted an important step in the production of a nuclear weapon.

'Iran's announcements are particularly regrettable given they come at a time when all JCPOA participants and the United States have started substantive discussions, with the objective of finding a rapid diplomatic solution to revitalize and restore' the accord, the so-called E3 European powers said.

'In light of recent developments, we reject all escalatory measures by any actor, and we call upon Iran not to further complicate the diplomatic process,' the statement said.

The pact lifted international sanctions on Tehran in exchange for limits on Iran's nuclear program. But the Trump administration imposed a raft of sanctions on Tehran under a 'maximum pressure' campaign after it withdrew from the nuclear agreement in 2018.

Iran responded by gradually breaching many of the nuclear restrictions saying the deal no longer applied.

U.S. and Iranian officials have publicly clashed over the sequencing of possible U.S. sanctions relief and Iran reversing its breaches of the deal.

Iran's envoy to the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), tweeted earlier on April 14 that the country will use two cascades of advanced IR-4 and IR-6 centrifuges in Natanz to enrich uranium hexafluoride up to 60 percent.

'The modification of the process just started and we expect to accumulate the product next week,' Kazem Gharibabadi wrote.

According to a spokesperson for Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, the enriched uranium would be used for medical purposes.

Iran had flagged the move a day earlier when it announced it would enrich uranium to its highest level ever, with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif saying the alleged attack on the nuclear site south of Tehran was a 'very bad gamble' that would strengthen Tehran's hand in talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

In a message aimed at Israel, which fiercely opposes the nuclear deal, Iran's President Hassan Rohani said during a cabinet meeting on April 14: 'You wanted to make our hands empty during the talks but our hands are full.'

SEE ALSO: Iran Blames Israel For Suspected Sabotage At Nuclear Facility, Vows Revenge

Under the agreement, Iran had committed to keep enrichment to 3.67 percent. Recently, it has been enriching up to 20 percent, saying the deal was no longer enforceable.

The White House has said it remains committed to talks with Iran despite Tehran's 'provocative' statement that it will ramp up uranium enrichment.

In a message aimed at Israel, Iran's President Hassan Rohani said during a cabinet meeting on April 14: "You wanted to make our hands empty during the talks, but our hands are full.'

"We cut both of your hands, one with IR-6 centrifuges and another one with 60 percent," he added.

IR-6 centrifuges enrich uranium at a far faster rate than the IR-1 first-generation centrifuges that were taken out in the suspected sabotage attack.

On April 13, the IAEA's director-general, Rafael Mariano Grossi, confirmed that Iran had informed the agency that the country "intends to start producing UF6 enriched up to 60 percent.'

The White House is 'certainly concerned about these provocative announcements,' press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. 'We believe that the diplomatic path is the only path forward here and that having a discussion, even indirect, is the best way to come to a resolution.'

'We cut both of your hands, one with IR-6 centrifuges and another one with 60 percent,' he added.

Few details have emerged about the April 11 alleged attack; no images of the aftermath have been released.

IR-6 centrifuges enrich uranium at a far faster rate than the IR-1 first-generation centrifuges that were taken out in the sabotage attack.

Rohani reiterated that Tehran is determined to continue negotiations with world powers, and pledged that Iran's nuclear activity will 'certainly be peaceful' and remain under IAEA supervision.

The White House is 'certainly concerned about these provocative announcements,' press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. 'We believe that the diplomatic path is the only path forward here and that having a discussion, even indirect, is the best way to come to a resolution.'

Saudi Arabia said on April 14 that enriching uranium to 60 percent purity could not be considered part of a peaceful nuclear program, and called on Iran to avoid escalation and engage seriously in talks with global powers.

A Foreign Ministry statement on state media said any deal should 'take into consideration the deep concern of regional states over escalatory steps by Iran to destabilize regional security and stability, including its nuclear program.'

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have supported Trump's move to quit the nuclear pact and reimpose sanctions.

Few details have emerged about the alleged April 11 sabotage attack and no images of the aftermath have been released.

Multiple Israeli media outlets quoted unnamed intelligence sources as saying that the country's Mossad spy service carried out a successful sabotage operation at the Natanz site, potentially setting back enrichment work there by months.

Israel is suspected of carrying out sabotage against Iran in the past, including cyberattacks and assassinations of nuclear scientists.

With reporting by AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters, and RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

More Middle East News

Access More

Sign up for Middle East News

a daily newsletter full of things to discuss over drinks.and the great thing is that it's on the house!