TEHRAN: Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday its decision to boost uranium enrichment to 60 per cent was a response to Israel’s “nuclear terrorism” against its Natanz facility.
Tehran starting advanced centrifuges and producing more highly refined uranium “is a response to your malice’’, Rouhani said in a message aimed at the Jewish state.
“What you did was nuclear terrorism’’, he said in televised remarks, referring to a blast early on Sunday that knocked out electricity at its main nuclear facility in central Iran. “What we do is legal.”
Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement but public radio reports in the country said it was a sabotage operation by the Mossad spy agency, citing unnamed intelligence sources.
Rouhani noted that Iran’s security bodies were yet to provide a final report but that the incident appeared to be a “Zionists’ crime”.
Iran’s envoy to the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency, Kazem Gharibabadi, wrote on Twitter that preparatory steps to allow enrichment to higher purity had started and that “we expect to accumulate the product next week” from centrifuges at Natanz.
Iran’s announcement of stepped-up enrichment has cast a shadow over talks in Vienna aimed at salvaging the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers that then US president Donald Trump abandoned three years ago.
The step will bring Iran closer to the 90 per cent purity threshold for military use and shorten its potential “breakout time” to build an atomic bomb — a goal the Islamic republic denies. Israel has often vowed it will stop Iran from ever building an atomic bomb, which it would regard as an existential threat.
Rouhani also again pledged that Iran’s nuclear activity will “certainly be peaceful” and remain under IAEA supervision.
Iran has said it requires the more highly enriched uranium for medical purposes. Gharibabadi said in his tweet that the new material “will improve significantly both the quality and quantity of radiopharmaceutical products”.
Under the nuclear deal, Iran had committed to keep enrichment to 3.67 per cent, though it had stepped this up to 20 per cent in January.
Robert Kelley, a former IAEA director of inspections, described the leap to 60 pe rcent as “very provocative”, in comments to AFP.
European powers expressed “grave concern” over Iran’s move to boost uranium enrichment to 60 per cent.
Britain, France and Germany said the announcement was “particularly regrettable” at a time when talks have resumed in Vienna, including with the United States, to revive the 2015 nuclear deal which Washington reneged on under Donald Trump.
“This is a serious development since the production of highly enriched uranium constitutes an important step in the production of a nuclear weapon’’, the three countries said in a statement.
They said that the start of talks on reviving the nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers have been “substantive”, with the aim of finding “a rapid diplomatic solution”.
But they added that Iran’s recent moves were “contrary to the constructive spirit and good faith of these discussions”.