Iran confirms nuclear enrichment of 60% at Natanz

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TEHRAN

Less than a week after Iran announced plans to ramp up uranium enrichment up to 60%, the country’s top lawmaker on Friday said the feat had been achieved.

Iran’s parliament speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf made the announcement on his Twitter page, saying the “young and pious” Iranian scientists had been able to produce the first batch of uranium with 60% purity.

Officials at Iran’s nuclear agency had earlier said the batch would be ready within the week.

The move, in response to Sunday’s cyberattack on Natanz nuclear facility in central Iran’s Isfahan province, has already raised concerns in the US and European countries.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Wednesday called Iran’s move “provocative,” while Britain, France, and Germany also criticized the decision to boost enrichment from the previous 20% along with adding 1,000 more advanced centrifuge machines to the Natanz site.

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, who is presently leading an Iranian delegation for talks in Vienna, on Thursday defended the move to scale up uranium enrichment.

He said the measure was taken within the framework of Articles 26 and 36 of the joint comprehensive plan of action (JCPOA), also known as Iran nuclear deal, and to meet medical requirements.

Earlier, President Hassan Rouhani underscored that the move was in response to what he termed “nuclear terrorism” at Natanz, pointing the finger at Tehran’s archenemy, Israel.

A team from the UN nuclear watchdog on Wednesday visited the site in the mountainous area south of Tehran and said Iran was “almost ready” to start enriching uranium to 60% purity, besides plans to add 1,024 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges to the facility.

“The Agency today verified that Iran had almost completed preparations to start producing UF6 enriched up to 60% U-235 at the Natanz Pilot Fuel Enrichment Plant (PFEP),” it said in a statement.

It has cast a shadow on ongoing talks between Iran and other signatories to the 2015 nuclear pact in Vienna, aimed at salvaging the deal.

During the plenary session on Thursday, Araghchi said his country was not in favor of “corrosive negotiations” or “talks for the sake of talks,” while criticizing the European participants for “not speaking” on the Natanz “sabotage.”

Tensions between Tehran and Washington continue to simmer due to stalemate over the 2015 accord, which the new US administration had earlier vowed to revive.

Officials in Tehran have alleged that the US is using sanctions and sabotage in an attempt to gain “leverage” in talks with Iran, obliquely accusing Washington and Tel Aviv of complicity in the Natanz incident.

Washington has, however, distanced itself from Sunday’s incident.

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