Iran has started enriching uranium up to 60 per cent purity, its highest level ever, in the wake of an attack on its Natanz nuclear site, the speaker of the country’s parliament says.
- The speaker said the enrichment started on Friday
- The move will likely raise tensions as Iran negotiates with world powers to allow the US back into a nuclear agreement and lift the crushing economic sanctions it faces
- Israel is widely suspected of carrying out the still-unexplained sabotage at the Iranian nuclear enrichment site
Speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf did not elaborate on how much uranium Iran planned to enrich.
It is likely to raise tensions as Iran negotiates with world powers in Vienna over a way to allow the US back into a nuclear agreement and lift the crushing economic sanctions it faces.
The announcement comes after an attack this past weekend that damaged centrifuges, which is suspected of having been carried out by Israel.
While Israel has not claimed responsibility for the attack, the country is widely suspected of having carried out the still-unexplained sabotage at the Natanz nuclear enrichment site.
“The will of the Iranian nation is a miracle-maker and it will defuse any conspiracy,” Mr Qalibaf said on state television.
He said the enrichment began just after midnight on Friday local time.
The head of the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran, the country’s civilian nuclear arm, later acknowledged the move to 60 per cent, according to state TV.
While 60 per cent is higher than any level Iran previously enriched uranium, it is still lower than weapons-grade level of 90 per cent.
Iran had been enriching uranium up to 20 per cent, which is a small technical step to weapons grade. The deal with the US limited Iran’s enrichment to 3.67 per cent.
Iran is not developing key nuclear weapons, US report says
The International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iran’s nuclear program, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this week, it sent its inspectors to Natanz and confirmed Iran was preparing to begin 60 per cent enrichment at an above-ground facility at the site.
The heightened enrichment could inspire a further response from Israel amid a long-running shadow war between the nations.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed never to allow Tehran to obtain a nuclear weapon and his country has twice pre-emptively bombed Middle Eastern nations to stop their atomic programs.
Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful.
An annual US intelligence report released this week maintained that “Iran is not currently undertaking the key nuclear weapons-development activities that we judge would be necessary to produce a nuclear device.”
Iran previously had said it could use uranium enriched up to 60 per cent for nuclear-powered ships.
But the Islamic Republic currently has no such ships in its navy.
The threat of higher enrichment by Iran already had drawn criticism from the US and three European nations in the nuclear deal — France, Germany and the United Kingdom.
The 2015 nuclear deal, which former president Donald Trump withdrew the US from in 2018, prevented Iran from stockpiling enough high-enriched uranium to be able to pursue a nuclear weapon if it chose in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
The weekend attack at Natanz was initially described only as a blackout in the electrical grid, but later Iranian officials began calling it an attack.