Iran has informed the international nuclear watchdog that it intends to massively ramp up its levels of uranium enrichment following an apparent attack on a nuclear site in the country over the weekend.
On Tuesday, Iran’s deputy foreign minister and a top nuclear negotiator Abbas Araghchi told state-run Press TV that the International Atomic Energy Organization (IAEA) had been informed of Tehran’s decision to ramp up enrichment to 60% purity, a big step up from the current 20% purity levels.
The decision pushes Iran closer to reaching the 90% enrichment level that is considered weapons-grade. Iran has continually denied it intends to assemble nuclear weapons.
The announcement came just days after a blackout at Iran’s Natanz nuclear site, an underground facility where uranium enrichment takes place. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused Israel of sabotaging the facility and vowed to take revenge.
In keeping with usual practice, Israel has given no official comment on the Natanz incident, though Israel’s army chief hinted at possible Israeli involvement in the attack in comments on Sunday. Several Israeli media outlets, quoting unnamed intelligence sources, said Mossad, the national intelligence agency, was behind the operation but offered no other details.
Iran has agreed to keep enrichment levels to under 3.67% under the 2015 nuclear deal it signed with the United States and other world powers.
In July 2019, the Iranian government announced it was increasing enrichment beyond that level, following the decision of then-US President Donald Trump to withdraw from the deal and re-introduce economic sanctions in 2018.
In January this year, Iran announced it would resume enriching uranium to 20% purity.
Last week, Iranian representatives met with officials from the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China — the other signatories to the nuclear deal — in Vienna to discuss a way forward on how to resuscitate the 2015 deal. US officials were also in Vienna to meet with the other signatories, but did not meet directly with Iranian officials.
A US State Department spokesperson said Monday that the talks in Vienna would reconvene this week.
The talks were scheduled to take place Wednesday, but have been delayed by a day by a positive Covid-19 test in one of the negotiating teams, Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency reported Tuesday.