DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – The Iranian president on Wednesday called Tehran’s decision to enrich 60% uranium after saboteurs attacked a nuclear site as “a response to your evil”, linking the incident to the talks underway in Vienna on its tattered nuclear deal with the world powers.
Israel, which has not commented on the attack, is suspected of leading this weekend’s assault on the Natanz nuclear facility, as part of an escalating shadow war between the two countries.
Escalating enrichment could lead to further retaliation, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowing never to allow Tehran to obtain a nuclear weapon. His country had bombed countries in the Middle East twice to stop their atomic programs.
Speaking to his cabinet, passionate President Hassan Rouhani said damaged first-generation IR-1 centrifuges at Natanz will be replaced by advanced IR-6 centrifuges which enrich uranium much faster.
“You wanted to empty our hands during the talks, but our hands are full,” Rouhani said.
He added, “The 60% enrichment is a response to your evil. … We have cut off both of your hands, one with IR-6 centrifuges and another at 60%. “
Iran said on Tuesday it would enrich uranium to its highest level ever in response to the weekend’s attack on Natanz. It also includes the addition of 1,000 “more advanced” centrifuges.
Officials initially said enrichment would begin on Wednesday. However, a tweet early Wednesday morning from Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Kazem Gharibadadi, suggested that it could come later. He wrote that the enrichment would be handled by just two cascades of IR-4 and IR-6 centrifuges at Natanz. A cascade is a group of centrifuges working together to enrich uranium more quickly.
“The process modification has just started and we plan to accumulate the proceeds next week,” Gharibadadi wrote.
Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful, although the West and the IAEA claim that Tehran had an organized military nuclear program until the end of 2003. However, the nuclear deal prevented having enough stocks of uranium to be able to continue a nuclear project. armed.
An annual US intelligence report released Tuesday upheld the US assessment that “Iran is not currently undertaking the major nuclear weapons development activities that we deem necessary to produce a nuclear device.”
The talks in Vienna aim to rekindle America’s role in the deal, which former President Donald Trump abandoned, and lift the sanctions he imposed. Rouhani in his comments on Wednesday insisted that Iran was still seeking a negotiated settlement in Vienna on its program.
“The United States should go back to the same conditions of 2015 when we signed the nuclear deal,” said Rouhani.
Iran had previously said it could use uranium enriched up to 60% for nuclear-powered ships. However, the Islamic Republic currently has no such vessel in its navy. The IAEA confirmed that Iran had informed it of its intention to enrich up to 60%.
Iran was enriched by up to 20% – and even that was a short technical step towards military grade levels of 90%.
The weekend attack in Natanz was initially described only as a blackout in the power grid feeding aboveground workshops and underground enrichment halls – but later Iranian officials began to call it an attack. .
Alireza Zakani, head of the Iranian parliament’s research center, referred to “several thousand centrifuges damaged and destroyed” in an interview on public television. However, no other official has offered the figure and no pictures of the consequences have been released.
Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran contributed to this report.