Nuclear: Iran will enrich its uranium to 60%

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Two days after a “sabotage” of its Natanz enrichment plant, which Tehran blames on Israel, Abbas Araghchi, deputy foreign minister, announced on Tuesday Iran’s intentions for 60% enrichment “in a letter to Rafael Grossi ”, executive director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear policeman, according to the official Irna press agency. “Preparations (for the implementation of this decision) will begin tonight” in Natanz, the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization (OIEA) announced.

Read also: At the heart of Natanz, the Israeli warning

In his letter, Abbas Araghchi declares that “1000 additional centrifuges with a 50% higher capacity will be added to the machines present in Natanz, in addition to the replacement of the damaged machines” by the explosion which occurred on Sunday in this nuclear complex in the center of the Iran, adds Irna without further details.

Enrichment to 60% would mark an additional and unprecedented step in the violation of commitments made by Iran under an international agreement concluded in Vienna in 2015 to limit its nuclear program, at a time when discussions must continue in Austria to save this pact. In response to the American withdrawal in 2018 from this international agreement and the reinstatement by Washington of sanctions in the name of a policy of “maximum pressure” against it, Iran has since 2019 freed itself from most of the key commitments made to Vienna.

“Provocative announcements” for Washington

The uranium enriched to 60% will be used to “produce molybdenum used for manufacturing various radiotherapeutic products,” says the OIEA. Molybdenum is a hard metal generally used in alloys. An enrichment to 60% would enable it to quickly increase to the 90% necessary for use for military purposes.

“This is extremely worrying (…), will inevitably increase tension and international concern about the Iranian nuclear program and will make it more difficult to relaunch the 2015 pact”, underlines Ali Vaez, of the International Crisis Group. The Islamic Republic, which has always denied wanting to acquire nuclear weapons, is currently enriching uranium at 20% in isotope 235, beyond the limit of 3.67% set by the agreement.

France “condemned” this decision as a “serious development” requiring “a coordinated response” from the countries involved in the negotiations on the nuclear issue. The White House, for its part, said it remained ready to continue negotiations with Iran despite these “provocative announcements”.

Ongoing discussions

The announcements come hours after a meeting in Tehran between Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.

Earlier, state television reported that Abbas Araghchi had left Tehran to attend a meeting in Vienna on Wednesday on the ongoing talks. But according to Moscow, this meeting was postponed until Thursday. These discussions are intended to reintegrate the United States into the 2015 agreement and bring Tehran back to the strict application of the text, in exchange for the lifting of American sanctions.

Read more: Iranian nuclear: first “fruitful” discussions to save the agreement

“We are counting on the fact that we will be able to save the agreement and that Washington will finally return to (its) full implementation,” said Sergey Lavrov.

“Thanks to (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu and maximum pressure from Washington, Iran (…) will now enrich to unprecedented levels, with less international oversight. Well done everyone! ”Commented Ali Vaez on Twitter. By announcing the 60% enrichment, “the Iranians really want to show that they are not coming back to Vienna in a weak position (…) but that will make the discussions much more complicated.”

Israel accused of sabotage of Natanz nuclear center

Tehran accused Israel of sabotaging its Natanz uranium enrichment plant on Sunday, promising “revenge” in due course. According to Iran, a “small explosion” resulted in a power failure and “quickly” repairable damage.

About that: Suspicious “power failure” in a nuclear installation

The New York Times, according to whom the operation was carried out by the Israelis, writes Tuesday from Jerusalem, quoting “an official in charge”, that “an explosive device was smuggled into the factory”. Washington has denied any involvement. “The Israelis, if they thought they could stop Iran’s efforts to lift the sanctions (…), made a very bad bet,” Mohammad Javad Zarif said.

On Tuesday, an Israeli channel reported that an Israeli boat had been the target of an attack near the coast of the United Arab Emirates, off Iran.